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New York City Personal Injury Lawyers

Filing a Lawsuit for False Arrest

The police have both a privilege and a duty to protect the public.  Most police officers take their oath to serve and protect very seriously, risking their lives day in and day out to keep citizens safe.  However, sometimes an officer can either make a mistake or abuse their authority intentionally.  The news has been abuzz recently with disturbing instances of police misconduct.  False arrest, a violation of the protection granted by the 4th Amendment, is one of the most common types of police misconduct.

What Makes an Arrest Legal?

Generally, in order for an arrest to be legal, first, the police must have reasonable grounds for making the arrest.  This is known as probable cause.  Probable cause can be based on information the police obtained by observation, from witnesses, his own expertise, or other evidence.  In addition, the police need to inform the individual that they are being arrested and the reason for the arrest.  A person may be able to prove the false arrest was a violation of their constitutional rights if:

  • No crime was committed
  • You were placed under arrest
  • The officer did not have probable cause

Who Do I Sue?                                                                                                                  

An individual who has been falsely arrested may sue the arresting officer as well as the municipality by which they are employed (for example, one would sue “The City of New York,” not the “NYPD.”).  The city can be held vicariously liable for the actions of the officer based on the doctrine of respondeat superior because they are an employee of the city.  Under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a person cannot be deprived of their rights by a state government employee.  In some cases, a plaintiff may also assert claims against other officers who were on the scene who did not intervene if unreasonable use of force was involved.  Depending on the offense, an officer may be also be criminally prosecuted.  In addition, the claim may be brought in either state or federal court.

What Can I Sue For?                                                                                                                                                                 

A person who has been falsely arrested may have a claim for damages that include:

  • Lost wages
  • Damage to reputation
  • Physical injuries that occurred during the arrest
  • Emotional distress

A plaintiff may be awarded both compensatory damages for the time spent in custody, and sometimes punitive damages.  Additionally, a prevailing plaintiff who has sued in federal court will be awarded attorney’s fees.

It is critically important for someone who has been falsely arrested to know that the statute of limitations is quite short under New York State law.  A plaintiff only has 90 days from the time of the occurrence to assert a claim.  Therefore, it is important to contact an attorney immediately or you may not be able to assert your claim.  If you have not committed a crime but have been detained by the police, contact the experienced police misconduct and false arrest attorneys at Ernest Holzberg & Associates.  Call (212)391-1139 today.


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