Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania widow: Husband's death was due to excessive force

Pennsylvania laws exclude police officers from liability when accidental injuries or deaths occur in the line of duty. Exceptions to the liability exclusion, under constitutional statute 8542, include a government or public employee's negligence. Victim compensations hinges on a defendant's carelessness or recklessness in liability cases.

A woman believes her husband's 2012 death was caused by Bucks County police officers. The 64-year-old man died, after reporting a possible break-in at his home. One of three officers who responded shot and fatally injured the man, whom police perceived as a threat.

The first officer at the scene allegedly saw a knife in the homeowner's hand and ordered the man to drop to the ground. A report later issued by the district attorney's office stated the man threatened the officer's life. The fatal shot was fired by one of the officers who arrived at the scene shortly after his colleague.

The official report absolved the police of wrongdoing. The district attorney concluded the man likely provoked the officers to use deadly force as a way to commit "suicide by cop." One of the man's three sons admitted his father had been depressed, after undergoing spinal surgery that forced the man to rely on a cane.

The surviving spouse asserted her husband was not found to be intoxicated or behaving strangely. The complaint stated, despite what police said, no evidence of a knife was ever found. No witnesses were produced to back up the officers' statements.

The widow blames the county, police department and the trio of responding officers for her husband's wrongful death. She accused the defendants of indifference, "grossly excessive" force and reckless conduct. The federal claim requested damages exceeding $50,000.

Special procedural rules and time constraints apply to liability actions against governments and their entities. Claims should be assessed for validity as quickly as possible, so an attorney can meet the required deadlines.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Suburban Phila. police department faces wrongful death complaint by widow of police shooting victim" Jon Campisi, Feb. 25, 2014

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