When a City is Immune from Certain Injury Claims – Bussy-Morice v. Kennedy

We’ve all heard stories of police using excessive force on suspected criminals. Unfortunately, these cases are not as rare as you might think. Since a variety of measures police officers take are discretionary, police officers routinely overestimate threats and use too much force as a result. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of all individuals who had force used or threatened against them by police in 2008, an estimated 74% felt those actions were excessive. Males were more likely than females to have force used or threatened against them, and blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience use or the threat of force. However, not all claims against a city police officer can be pursued. Many are barred under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

In Bussey-Morice v. Kennedy, the plaintiff died during an encounter with the police in the city of Rockledge. The police officers on the scene used their tasers on the plaintiff between three and six times during the encounter. Later, the cause of death was deemed to be “cocaine excited delirium,” but the medical examiner also noted the decedent had conditions such as pulmonary emphysema and lung adhesions.

The plaintiff’s personal representative filed a lawsuit against the city and each police officer involved in the incident, alleging claims for excessive force, battery, and wrongful death due to negligent training. The district court partially granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, noting that the theory of sovereign immunity applied.

Under Florida law, a city, county, or state government can typically only be sued when it has been deemed to waive sovereign immunity. However, the law also states that a city or state is not liable for the acts of an “officer or agent” which are “committed in bad faith or with a malicious purpose in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety or property.” Here, the plaintiff’s personal representative claimed that the officers had acted in bad faith and with malicious purpose. Thus, the city or state could not be sued.

The court dismissed the wrongful death claim brought by the plaintiff’s personal representative. The court noted that the claim alleged that the police officers had not been trained properly. According to the court, this negligent training claim could not stand because training is a “discretionary function” reserved for the city. For the court to intervene would be to improperly insert itself in questions of police training and planning. Thus, sovereign immunity applied to the city.

The court did, however, allow the third claim against the city for use of excessive force under federal civil rights law.

If you feel that a police officer or any other government entity has negligently used excessive force towards you or somebody you know, you need to contact an experienced attorney. In order to pursue legal action, the police officer must have inflicted harm on the victim. Without harm, there can be no case. Most cases aren’t totally clear, and it can be difficult to determine if you have a viable claim. This is where we can help. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, highly skilled Miami personal injury lawyer Robert Dixon will assess the merits of your case and inform you of your legal options at no cost. You have nothing to lose by taking advantage of our free, no-obligation consultation. We proudly represent clients throughout South Florida. Contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Understanding the Basics of “Catastrophic Injuries” Under Florida Law, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, July 7, 2014

Understanding the Pure Comparative Negligence Law in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014

Liability in Rental Car Accidents in Florida – Adams v. Bell Partners, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014

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