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Can Police Officers Sue Suspects for Personal Injury?

Police officers do risky work and often interact with dangerous people. Officers are sometimes injured on the job, and Nevada provides robust workers’ compensation coverage to ensure that their costs are covered. But in some situations an officer may also think about filing a personal injury lawsuit against someone who has caused their injury, especially if the responsible person caused the injury deliberately. Nevada law limits the circumstances when an officer can sue suspects and others.

The “firefighter’s rule” limits officers’ right to sue for personal injury

Nevada police officers and other first responders are limited in their ability to sue members of the public for personal injury that officers suffer while on the job. The so-called “firefighter’s rule,” adopted by the Nevada Supreme Court in Steelman v. Lind, 97 Nev. 425, 427-28 (1981), rests on two bases. First, officers are specifically hired to confront dangerous situations on behalf of the general population. And second, officers receive compensation, training, and insurance in exchange for assuming the risk of injury. The basis of the firefighter’s rule is partly a concern that the public might be reluctant to call upon the help of the police if doing so created a risk of personal liability. In other words, the rule is chiefly designed to protect bystanders, victims of crime, and landowners from liability for their negligence. A side effect of the rule is that criminal suspects can be protected by it as well.

Where the firefighter’s rule may not apply

Nevada law provides a number of specific exceptions to the firefighter’s rule that may nevertheless allow a personal injury lawsuit against a suspect to go forward.
  • An officer can sue for injuries arising from willful acts intended to injure the officer, provided that the willful act:
    • was intended to injure the officer,
    • violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation intended to protect officers, prohibiting resistance, or requiring compliance with officer instructions, or
    • constituted arson.
  • If the cause of the officer’s injury was negligence that was unrelated to the emergency that caused the officer to be on the scene. Moody v. Manny’s Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320 (1994).
The first point above is probably the most important one for officers who confront dangerous people in the field. When a suspect intentionally tries to harm an officer, the officer has a clear option of suing for personal injury. Whether such a suit makes sense under the circumstances will depend on many factors. For example, a suspect may not have financial resources to pay a civil judgment, especially given that the suspect likely will be doing jail time anyway.

GGRM is here to answer officers’ questions

The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez is proud of its long history of helping members of the Las Vegas first responder community with their personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. If you have questions about your right to sue a suspect or others for a personal injury suffered on the job, please give us a call today for a free attorney consultation. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our contacts page.

Constitutional Protections for Police Involved in High-Speed Pursuits

Constitutional Protections for Police Involved in High-Speed Pursuits
High-speed chases create risk for everyone involved—the suspect, the officers in pursuit, and bystanders in other vehicles or on the roadside. To end a pursuit police often use various kinds of force against the suspect’s vehicle, such as the precision immobilization technique (a.k.a. the “PIT maneuver”) in which an officer attempts to spin the suspect’s vehicle. When a suspect or a bystander is injured during a pursuit, the doctrine of qualified immunity under the U.S. Constitution provides protections against civil liability for involved officers.

Qualified immunity and high-speed chases

Police officers involved in high-speed pursuits have substantial protection against civil liability under the doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields officers and other public officials from civil liability for injuries they cause during the course of their work so long as their actions don’t “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). The Supreme Court has placed narrow limits to when an officer’s actions fall outside this protection:
  • “A clearly established right is one that is ‘sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violated that right.’” Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S. Ct. 305, 308 (2015), quoting Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. __ (2012).
  • “Put simply, qualified immunity protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Mullenix, 136 S. Ct. at 308, quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).

The Mullenix case illustrates how qualified immunity protects officers

The facts in the Mullenix case show the strength of qualified immunity. In that case the defendant officer was sued by the family of a suspect who died during a chase. The suspect was intoxicated and had threatened officers with a gun during the pursuit. The officer had used a rifle to shoot at the suspect’s car from an overpass before the suspect’s car could reach a spike-strip barrier just ahead, where other officers were waiting. Although the officer had announced an intention to shoot at the car to disable it, his shots instead hit the suspect, who died from his injuries. The plaintiffs sued the officer under federal civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In holding in favor of the officer’s qualified immunity, the Supreme Court focused on the facts of the case to conclude that the officer’s decision to use deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances. More to the point, the Court concluded that in light of the suspect’s dangerous behavior it could not conclude “that only someone ‘plainly incompetent’ or who ‘knowingly violate[s] the law’ would have perceived a sufficient threat and acted as Mullenix did.” Mullenix, 136 S. Ct. at 310. Under the Court’s ruling, the reasonableness and justification for the officer’s actions were evaluated in light of the specific circumstances of the event, not general principles. Importantly, the Court’s majority rejected the reasoning put forward by the dissenting justices that the officer’s actions were unreasonable in light of the availability of other tactics. Id.

Officers can protect themselves by preparing detailed reports

For officers, the lesson in Mullenix is that the facts of a given situation will be of paramount importance in any ensuing litigation. Whether an officer’s actions were reasonable or sank to the level of “incompetence” will be evaluated according to what the officer knew at the time about the suspect’s dangerousness. In a sense, the objective reasonableness of the officer’s actions will be determined by the officer’s subjective understanding of the events taking place in the moment. After any high speed chase that involved use of force, officers should take care to fully document the rationale for their course of action. Officers who have questions about how qualified immunity functions and how the law governs high speed chases should seek out an attorney. Police departments and unions offer legal advice, but it can sometimes be helpful to speak to an outside firm like Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez. We have helped clients in the Las Vegas first responder community protect themselves from lawsuits for over 45 years. For a free attorney consultation call 702-388-4476 or ask us to reach out to you through our contact page.

Overtime Pay Rules for Law Enforcement

Overtime Pay Rules for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers are often asked to work long hours, but getting paid for overtime can sometimes be more of a struggle than it should be. Federal law provides legal tools for officers who find themselves fighting to get the overtime pay they have earned.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act covers a range of pay issues across the country, including the federal minimum wage and overtime rules. It applies to most working people in the United States, including employees of state and local government agencies. It is enforced through the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division or through direct lawsuits filed by employees. In acknowledgement of the irregularity of law enforcement work, the FLSA has special rules governing how overtime is calculated in the profession. Section 207(k) of the statute provides a formula for determining when time-and-a-half overtime applies. Unlike other employers, which are tied to the standard work week, law enforcement agencies may use a work period that is anywhere from 7 to 28 consecutive days. An employer must pay overtime when an employee’s work exceeds 171 hours within the 28-day period. The rate is prorated if the employer’s work period is shorter than the maximum 28 days. Federal regulations include a detailed chart breaking down the maximum number of hours in work periods of different lengths. Note that under the FLSA it is lawful for an employer to offer officers an option to take additional leave in lieu of cash for overtime. The time off must accrue at the time-and-a-half rate. Although employers can cap the amount of FLSA time off an employee can accrue, it cannot be subject to a “use it or lose it” rule.

Las Vegas Metro’s overtime rules

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s policy manual is a useful example of how an employer can structure overtime. Section 610 of the manual provides Metro’s overtime rules, which were negotiated with the officers’ union. A normal work week for Metro is 40 hours, with work days between 8 and 12 hours long. In an emergency an officer may be called upon to work outside of the normal shift, in which case the officer will be compensated for at least 4 hours of work, provided the 4-hour period doesn’t run into the normal shift. There are a number of other specific rules. For example:
  • Officers are also paid overtime whenever required to work during holidays.
  • Officers who are called back to duty with less than 12-hours’ notice are entitled to overtime.
  • Officers are entitled to overtime pay during unplanned emergencies.
  • Overtime pay earned by officers who are held over beyond their normal shifts is not subject to retirement system contributions.
  • Overtime pay can be earned by working special events if approved in advance.

GGRM is here to help Las Vegas law enforcement officers

Sorting through the rules that govern overtime pay can be complex. Hopefully none of our city’s police are working overtime without getting paid for it. If you are concerned that you may be owed overtime that isn’t being paid, the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez may be able to help. We have proudly served the Las Vegas first responder community for over 45 years. For a free consultation reach out to us today at 702-388-4476 or contact us through our website.

Natural Disasters and First Responder Workers’ Comp

Natural Disasters and First Responder Workers’ Comp
During natural disasters first responders often rush toward the places of greatest hazard. Wildfires, severe weather, floods, and even earthquakes are among the disasters emergency personnel may face here in Nevada. And as we saw during the 2017 firestorms in California, from time to time Nevadans also go to other states to lend assistance to local crews. First responders may have questions about how Nevada’s workers’ compensation system protects them during these events.

Disaster declarations and workers’ compensation

Nevada’s industrial insurance law doesn’t specifically address natural disasters. But Nevada law authorizes the governor to declare a state of emergency in the event of a disaster “of unprecedented size and destructiveness.” Part of the rationale for this law is to ensure that the state can access federal resources to respond to crises. The governor used this authority last year to respond to severe weather in the state. The law also grants the governor broad authority to make and modify rules and regulations to, among other things, ensure the availability of emergency response personnel in times of crisis. NRS 414.060. Similar laws have been used in other states to facilitate provision of workers’ compensation benefits to first responders who are involved in disaster relief efforts. For example, in response to Hurricane Harvey the governor of Texas ordered workers’ compensation insurers to continue providing benefits to workers in affected areas, while also extending deadlines and expanding coverage in important ways. Under the right conditions, the Nevada governor could take similar steps. The Texas example highlights an important consideration during major disasters. In some cases a worker’s ordinary doctor or pharmacy may not be accessible. Workers with existing, covered conditions may need exceptions to their benefits rules, such coverage for out-of-network care or deadline extensions to account for lost power or disrupted communications. Absent a specific declaration from the governor or another authorized government official, workers in this situation may need help getting the care they need.

Workers’ comp has you covered

Even without an emergency declaration from the governor, Nevada’s workers’ compensation system should cover first responders who are injured during natural disasters while they are doing their jobs. Nevada’s industrial insurance system covers injuries that arise out of and in the course of a worker’s employment. NRS 616C.150. Police officers, firefighters, and EMS professionals who respond to natural disasters at the behest of their employers are covered. State law also explicitly provides coverage for volunteer firefighters, both nonprofessionals and professionals alike. Law enforcement personnel are typically authorized to take steps to protect the public even when they are off-duty, but it’s worth checking an employer’s policies to ensure that off-duty activities are covered. Nevada’s workers’ compensation law specifically provides coverage for injuries suffered out of state.  NRS 616C.190. First responders who go out of state to assist local agencies can do so knowing any injury they suffer will be covered. At Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez we are proud of our long history of helping clients in the Las Vegas first-responder community resolve their workers’ compensation disputes. During emergencies insurers can become difficult to work with, due to high volumes or financial pressures. Having an experienced attorney staying on top of a dispute can make all the difference. For a free attorney consultation, call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.

High-Speed Chases and Bystander Injury

High-Speed Chases and Bystander Injury
Innocent bystanders are sometimes the unwitting victims of high-speed chases on Nevada roads. Fleeing suspects can drive well above the speed limit, often recklessly moving in and out of lanes, sometimes even moving in front of oncoming traffic. Police officers who give chase are faced with a difficult choice: end the pursuit and allow the dangerous suspect to escape or continue the chase even if it creates risk for the public. Bystanders who are injured during a high-speed chase can sue the suspect for damages, but can they also sue the police department?

Suing the suspect

A suspect in a high-speed chase bears responsibility for the property damage and personal injuries caused during the course of a pursuit. In the context of a civil trial, the reckless nature of a high-speed chase, in which the suspect drives with complete disregard for the safety of other people on the road, will often support a claim of gross negligence against the suspect. In the criminal proceeding that follows a high-speed chase a court may order the suspect to pay restitution to injured bystanders. The restitution that forms part of a criminal sentence is limited to damages that are relatively easy to account for: medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and estimated costs of future treatment. A criminal court can’t order restitution for subjective kinds of damages, like pain and suffering or psychological trauma associated with an accident. A civil lawsuit needs to be filed against the suspect to recover for these types of injuries. The problem with lawsuits against a criminal suspect (or a convict) is that an individual often lacks the financial resources to compensate an injured plaintiff for the full scope of his or her injuries. The defendant’s auto insurance policy probably disclaims liability for intentionally tortious acts, leaving only the defendant’s personal assets available for plaintiffs to collect against.

Sovereign immunity limits suits against police departments

The relatively deep pockets of a police department may tempt injured victims to consider a lawsuit against the officers involved in the chase, as well as their employer. But Nevada law limits the liability of the state and its subdivisions, including the police departments of counties and cities. Under NRS 41.032, officers and their employing departments are immune from civil lawsuits for damages arising from an officer’s “exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty.” The Nevada Supreme Court has defined a “discretionary act” as an action that “requires personal deliberation, decision, and judgment.” Maturi v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep’t, 110 Nev. 307, 309 (1994). The decision to pursue a fleeing suspect, being at the discretion of the pursuing officer, will often fall into this definition. An exception for sovereign immunity can apply where an officer deliberately causes an injury, or where the officer behaves in a completely reckless manner. Sovereign immunity probably wouldn’t apply if an officer plowed through a crowd of bystanders to get to a fleeing suspect. Fortunately, such cases are rare. Note that even in such circumstances punitive damages are not available in civil suits against state or local agencies. NRS 41.032.

Consult with a personal injury lawyer

The attorneys at the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have broad experience with personal injury cases in the Las Vegas area. We work with both citizens and first responders to resolve legal problems with professionalism and care. For a free attorney consultation, call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.

Administrative Investigations Explained

Administrative Investigations Explained

When a police officer has an allegation of wrongdoing made against them, he or she is understandably anxious to understand what is going on and take the appropriate steps. One of the most stressful parts of the process is when an officer has to testify as part of the investigation. At this point, it is strongly advised that the officer consult with an attorney who has experience specific to administrative investigations. Here are some key points police officers subject to an administrative investigation should keep in mind when preparing for the investigative process.

  • Confine answers to the scope of the question being asked. When an officer is asked a question as part of the investigation, he or she should answer directly and honestly. However, the best course is generally to not add additional testimony or justifications. It is not advisable for the officer to volunteer information or answers that were not requested, as this is not necessary and can often do more harm than good.
  • Remain calm and collected throughout the process. Do not be defensive. Maintaining one’s composure during the proceedings can be a huge benefit. Taking a defensive or aggressive posture can weaken the officer’s testimony and undermine their credibility.
  • When it comes to testimony, there is no such thing as over preparing. Before testifying, an officer should carefully review any and all relevant evidence, reports, documentation, witness accounts. Know the facts of the case or incident inside and out, and be prepared to answer hard questions.
  • In conjunction with number 1, keep answers succinct and on point. Simple yes or no answers can oftentimes be the most effective and appropriate.
  • Don’t neglect your appearance. Make sure that your dress, grooming, etc. help your credibility rather than undermine it.
Finally, administrative investigations are not something you need to or should go through alone. Consult with an experienced attorney you can trust to passionately and competently represent your interests. For decades GGRM has been representing Las Vegas’s finest. Our experience and passion make us the premier Las Vegas law firm for police officers in need of legal representation or consultation. Visit our contact page to learn more and get in touch with one of our attorneys.