Indiana Wrongful Death by Government Actors
The loss of a loved one is painful, but that pain is far worse when the death was caused by the government that is supposed to protect its citizens. As citizens, we are all legally protected from wrongful actions committed by the government and its agents. These protections are known as civil rights. Wrongful death at the hands of a government worker, such as a police officer, a correctional officer, or a prison doctor, may be a civil rights violation for which money damages are recoverable in a lawsuit.
The Indiana civil rights lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP know the civil rights laws and how they apply to wrongful conduct by state actors. In the case of Indiana wrongful death by government actors, we will fight to hold government actors responsible and to seek money damages for the victim’s family.
Fighting Indiana Wrongful Death by Government
At Keffer Hirschauer LLP, we understand that you have suffered the greatest of losses, the death of a loved one. Your pain may be deepened by the knowledge that a government agency, established to protect citizens, has caused your loss. Such a wrong cannot go unchallenged; lawsuits not only provide justice for victims and their families, they also serve to prevent the same thing from happening to others in the future. Our hard-hitting team of experienced Indiana litigation attorneys will work hard to hold responsible state wrongdoers who caused unnecessary death.
Keffer Hirschauer LLP works to vindicate the rights of the victims of Indiana wrongful death by government actors. To learn whether your loss may entitle you to compensation under the law, call us to schedule an evaluation by one of our Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys.
Fight for Recovery under the Section 1983 Civil Rights Law
The Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Act), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is a federal law that gives citizens a way to hold government actors accountable when they violate civil rights. This law is sometimes referred to as Section 1983. Section 1983 allows courts to award damages to compensate a victim for out-of-pocket costs. In some circumstances, it even allows for punitive damages, a monetary award designed to punish a government wrongdoer.
Civil rights protected under Section 1983 include basic rights protected by the Constitution of the United States, namely an individual’s right to maintain his or her:
The government cannot infringe on a person’s rights to live, be free, and keep their property without providing due process of law.
The person being sued in a civil rights claim under Section 1983, known as a defendant, is an employee of a government unit, entity, or agency. In the event of Indiana wrongful death by government actors, examples of government employees who may be responsible include:
- Police officers
- Jail or Indiana Department of Correction employees
- Community Correction officers
The conduct that resulted in your loved one’s death may take place in a variety of locations. Claims of wrongful death in jail are not unheard of, but the conduct could also take place anywhere—on a public street or sidewalk, in a detention facility, or in a police vehicle.
In some cases, the city, county, or other government unit may also be sued, such as when it failed to train or supervise employees properly or failed to intervene in a dangerous pattern of employee behavior, which is also known as a failure to protect claim. Government units sometimes have immunity from prosecution, meaning they cannot be held legally or financially responsible, but that is not ironclad. Our experienced Indiana civil rights lawyers can assess whether the state, county, or city might be potentially liable in these cases.
Conduct Performed “Under Color of Law”
To win a case under Section 1983, the government employee who caused your loved one’s death must have been acting “under color of law.” This means that he or she appeared to be acting with official authority from a governmental entity. It makes no difference whether the actor legally possessed the power to act in a certain way. What matters is that the actor behaved in a way that created the appearance of official authority.
Examples of conduct causing wrongful death and resulting from color of law violations include:
- A police officer who uses excessive force in making an arrest, including a police shooting
- A police officer whose behavior is in reckless disregard of the safety of innocent bystanders
- A correctional officer who uses excessive force to subdue a prisoner
- A correctional officer who fails to obtain medical care for a prisoner in a medical crisis such as injury or illness
Just determining whether a government employee was acting “under color of law” can be complicated. Simply working for a government unit does not make all of an actor’s conduct performed “under color of law.” At the same time, an off-duty government employee may still be considered as acting under the color of law. This can be particularly true of uniformed personnel such as police and correctional officers. Our Indiana wrongful death civil right lawyers can advise you about the strengths and weaknesses of a potential legal claim under Section 1983.
A Successful Section 1983 Wrongful Death Claim
Not all wrongful death actions in Indiana involve a civil rights violation under Section 1983. A successful Section 1983 wrongful death action shows that the actor who caused the death:
- Was acting under color of law
- Deprived the victim of a federal constitutional or statutory right
In other words, a Section 1983 civil rights action alleges Indiana wrongful death by government action or inaction. The type of conduct prohibited or causing the death must be performed by a government employee. The actions of an off-duty employee can still violate civil rights under certain circumstances.
Examples of incidents resulting in death that could qualify as violating civil rights include:
- Death of an individual detained in police custody
- Death of an innocent bystander in a police shooting
- Death from a known medical condition while in jail or prison
If you think your loved one’s death may have resulted from a Section 1983 civil rights violation, be prepared to discuss the following with our Indianapolis civil rights attorneys:
- Did the person who caused the death work for the government?
- Did that person appear to have government authority to engage in the conduct that caused the victim’s death?
- Did you or your loved one suffer out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the injuries that caused death (such as medical expenses) or the death itself (funeral and burial expenses)?
Answers to questions like these may not be clear, but our Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys are experienced at evaluating tough civil rights claims, and we are passionate about holding government actors accountable in the State of Indiana.
How a Section 1983 Indiana Wrongful Death by Government Lawsuit Works
Skilled litigation attorneys know that the early part of any case involves evaluating the circumstances underlying the claim and starting to collect evidence. At Keffer Hirschauer LLP, our Indiana civil rights attorneys and their knowledgeable staff know the importance of early intervention. We are experienced in seeing Indiana civil rights wrongful death cases through from start to finish.
When the facts initially gathered from the client and other relevant sources reveal a viable claim, our Indiana civil rights lawyers will first prepare and serve a tort claim notice on the government entity or employee alleged to have caused your loss. Service of an Indiana notice of tort claim is a preliminary requirement to filing a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death against the State of Indiana, a city, county, or state agency. The Indiana Tort Claims Act, codified at Indiana Code chapter 34-13-3, sets out the information that the tort claim notice must include and on whom it must be served. Depending on the government entity, agency, or employee involved, service may be required on more than person, agency, or entity, and failure to serve the notice by the deadline prescribed in the Act can end your lawsuit before it was filed.
After the named government entity has responded to your notice of claim or failed to respond by the deadline set out in the Act, Keffer and Hirschauer LLP will file a complaint for damages, alleging that your loved one’s death was wrongfully caused by a government employee or agent acting under color of law. After filing the complaint, we continue to gather evidence like this to support the claim:
- Witness statements
- Medical records
- Autopsy records
- Police reports
- Physical evidence
- Videos and photographs
Contacting an Indianapolis civil rights attorney for your wrongful death claim sooner rather than later is critical in order to preserve the evidence necessary to prove your case and to ensure you meet legal deadlines.
As evidence mounts, a case may proceed to settlement negotiations, to trial, or both. Cases can settle before, during, or after trial. When settlement occurs before or early in a trial, that can provide family members the compensation they deserve while avoiding the cost, expense, and emotional trauma of a trial. Whether the case is resolved through trial or settlement, our Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys will make sure that you have a meaningful opportunity to speak against the violation of rights that took your loved one prematurely.
Legal Help When Wrongful Death by Government Happens in Indiana
An Indiana 1983 civil rights action alleging wrongful death is complex. If your family has been broken as a result of a color of law violation, you need experienced and tough Indianapolis civil rights attorneys who are experienced in Indiana wrongful death by government lawsuits. Whether your case is in Marion County or elsewhere in Indiana, you’ll find your Section 1983 attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP. For a free consultation to determine whether you have a strong claim for wrongful death caused by a government actor, call (317) 648-9560 or complete our online contact form.