Payouts for Police Misconduct Claims Rise While Number of Claims Appear to Fall
by Douglas Ankney
Municipalities and insurers are spending more in costs and payouts from law enforcement misconduct claims, but it appears that the total number of claims is dropping.
The rise in costs may be attributed to the heightened public focus on holding police accountable. “In the last five years, public opinion about police conduct in this country has started exploding,” said Michael Otworth, vice president at Genesis Management and Insurance Services Corporation.
“Historically, we’re looking at the highest payouts for law enforcement that we’ve seen in a long time.”
Controversial cases dealing with excessive force, including Michael Brown Jr.’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, have led to a loss of public confidence in law enforcement. And Washington, D.C.-area attorney Benjamin Eggert said, “The best explanation of why we’re seeing flat claims with bigger payouts is that the police are doing the same things in 2019 that they were doing five years ago or ten years ago.”
Meanwhile, according to Eggert, the Supreme Court is expanding the protections of the qualified immunity defense to shield police from liability for their misconduct. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that prohibits an officer from being sued unless the officer violated a “clearly established constitutional right.” This means that if there isn’t a case precedent clearly establishing the right at issue, then the officer is immune from civil liability.
Eggert said that of the 11 Supreme Court opinions addressing the defense, there have been “ten in favor of qualified immunity and only one where it was questioned as going too far.”