Crossing the Line: Police Use of Force and Wrongful Death

Crossing the Line: Police Use of Force and Wrongful Death

When a friend or loved one passes away, that loss leaves a void that is impossible to fill completely. That void is sometimes seen to be greater when the person was lost due to someone else’s careless or reckless action. Legal actions for wrongful death are intended to help those individuals left behind be able to recover a fraction of what they lost, while also bringing attention to the negligent act in an attempt to ensure it does not happen again. Unfortunately in today’s modern society we hear all too regularly of wrongful death actions against those who are sworn to protect and serve. Merely because a wrongdoer is a government agent, such as a police officer, does not mean that they are immune from accountability. There are some limits and specific rules when litigation involves police officers.

Governmental Immunity

Wisconsin law does not allow lawsuits to be brought against state employees (including peace officers) “for or on account of any act growing out of or committed in the course of the discharge of the officer’s…duties.” What this means is that if an officer injures someone while performing his or her duty, such as making an arrest, no lawsuit may be brought to recover damages for those injuries. However, in wrongful death actions, a plaintiff is claiming that the wrongdoer was negligent. If an injury occurs while the officer is acting negligently, then the governmental immunity provisions of the law no longer protect that officer from litigation.

Wrongful Death Action and Damages

In order to bring a wrongful death action in court against an alleged wrongdoer, the decedent’s family member(s), or representative, must file in court within three years after the negligent act. This period begins to run from the moment that the injury leading to death occurred, or in some cases, when the injury was discovered. Ensuring that a case is filed properly within this time period is crucial as missing the deadline can mean that the action will be barred permanently.

The party or parties bringing a wrongful death action, if successful, can recover significant monetary damages. This is not merely to punish the wrongdoer for the negligent act, but to attempt to provide some semblance of an award that attempts to make the plaintiff whole. It is well known that money cannot bring a loved one back or fill the void left by their abrupt departure. However, a victim’s family should not suffer further insult or injury than that which the wrongdoer has already caused. Under Wisconsin law, parties can recover medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, funds to cover lost wages or income to the family, and loss of companionship (up to a statutory limit).

The Law Offices of Robert T Edens PC


Losing a loved one to someone else’s negligence is never easy, but it can be more intimidating when the wrongdoer is in a position of trust. If your loved one has been fatally injured by a negligent actor, call the Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C in Waukegan today. Our experienced staff can discuss your options and provide guidance that you can use to determine your next steps.


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