When we believe a police shooting is wrongful, we do everything in our power to achieve justice for victims and their families. We have won multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements against state and local police agencies who use deadly force without adequate justification. Our notable cases include an $8 million jury verdict for a police shooting of a woman during a traffic stop, a combined $5.5 million settlement for a man shot by police during a search of his home, and a $1.75 million settlement for a mentally ill man who was shot on a public roadway.

Successful litigation of a police shooting case involves extensive investigation and a thorough knowledge of the law surrounding the use of police force. Generally speaking, police are entitled to use force that is “reasonable” under the circumstances. In other words, they cannot use more force than reasonably necessary to accomplish their law enforcement objective.

When police officers use force that is unreasonably excessive, the officers may be found legally responsible for violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In lawsuits surrounding police shootings, the facts mean everything. A case can be won or lost based on how thorough the attorneys review and investigate the circumstances surrounding the officers’ decision to use deadly force.  Attorneys who are experienced in handling police shooting cases and other kinds of excessive force can also help navigate tricky legal issues that sometimes accompany these lawsuits. Chief among these is addressing the defense of “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that can permit a police officer to escape liability even when his or her use of force is excessive. Defeating this defense can require an exhaustive analysis of case law in order to demonstrate that a reasonable officer would have been on legal notice about the excessiveness of the force used.


At Budge & Heipt, we have successfully handled police shooting cases resulting in serious injuries and death against city, state, and county police officers and sheriff’s deputies. In one such case, for example, we represented a woman who was seriously injured during a roadside traffic stop by a state trooper. The woman was shot in the shoulder by the trooper after he claimed that she pointed something at him that appeared to be a weapon. With forensic evidence, we were able to demonstrate that the woman was shot in the back of her shoulder rather than from the front as the trooper claimed. This, along with other evidence, resulted in an $8 million jury verdict on her behalf.

At Budge & Heipt, we have also represented people who have been victims of excessive force in their own homes. In one such case, we represented a young man who was shot numerous times by two law enforcement officers after they entered his bedroom. Although the man was unarmed, the officers claimed to be in fear for their lives when they discharged their weapons. With the assistance of multiple experts, we worked hard to develop the true facts, defeat defense motions for qualified immunity, and cast serious doubt of the officers’ version of events. Our efforts paid off, and the man received $5.5 million in compensation through legal settlements.

In yet another case, we represented the parents of a mentally ill man who was shot and killed in broad daylight on a city highway. Despite official determinations that the force was justified, we sought out and interviewed numerous eyewitnesses—bystanders, motorists, and employees of adjacent businesses—who witnessed the events leading up to and surrounding the shooting. Shortly after filing a federal lawsuit, the case was settled for $1.75 million—one of the highest excessive force settlements in the state at that time.

Lawsuits involving police shootings are different from ordinary lawsuits. This is because police have wide discretion to choose when and where to use force, and the testimony of police officers carries great weight. Overcoming natural juror bias in favor of police officers can be a daunting prospect, requiring thoroughness, tenacity, and legal skill. Moreover, as with other kinds of constitutional claims, municipalities (such as cities and counties) are not automatically liable for the excessive force of their officers. Proving “municipal liability” requires proof relating to the policies, customs, practices or patterns of the county, city, or state agency for which the officer works. Lawyers who are unfamiliar with the law surrounding the use of police force sometimes fail to recognize this.

If a police officer (or his or her employer) is found to be legally responsible for an unjustified shooting, an attorney should also bear in mind the question of monetary damages that might be recovered. There are several categories of possible damages, and, as with questions of liability, proving damages requires effort.

Compensatory damages can be awarded to the victim of a police shooting for things like pain and suffering, past and future medical costs, and lost earnings. When a police shooting causes death, damages can also be sought on behalf of certain relatives in appropriate circumstances, for the loss of their loved one. In addition, punitive damages can be awarded against an officer if the officer is found to have acted with reckless disregard of the victim’s constitutional rights or if there is evidence of malice. While every case is different, all these categories of damages should be considered, and an attorney should be diligent about considering the need to retain experts on subjects relating to physical injuries, past and future damages, and other issues that require the expertise of medical or economic experts.

If you or a loved one is a victim of a police shooting that resulted in serious injury or wrongful death, please contact our office to talk about your case. There is absolutely no cost or obligation to do so.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.