The city of Philadelphia recently agreed to pay $2 million to settle a police brutality case. Police smashed the car windows of a Black woman and then beat her and separated her from her nephew and 2-year-old son. She had driven unknowingly into the middle of a protest last October. The hard-of-hearing toddler lost his hearing aid during the incident, and the woman was separated from her nephew and son for several hours even though she was never charged. A significant portion of the settlement was for the emotional distress experienced by the mother, her nephew, and her son. 

Suing the Philadelphia Police Department for Emotional Distress

This case demonstrates the horrifying emotional distress victims of police brutality can and do experience. If you have been the victim of police brutality in Philadelphia, you may be wondering if you can sue the police for emotional distress. Generally, citizens can sue the Philadelphia Police Department for infliction of emotional distress in one of two circumstances. First, if the officer intentionally or recklessly acted in a way that caused an emotional injury. Citizens can also sue if the officer causes emotional distress through a negligent act. However, when the court determines that the police officer’s conduct was in the scope of their law enforcement duties, the officer may be immune from being held liable. 


Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

A victim alleging a police officer caused emotional distress must show that the police officer’s conduct was extreme and outrageous. They also need to show that the police officer acted intentionally or recklessly and that the intentional or reckless conduct caused severe emotional distress to the victim. The victim can succeed in an intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit against a police officer when the officer either intended to cause emotional distress or recklessly disregarded the likelihood that their conduct would cause emotional distress. 

Police officer conduct that is mean, uncaring, or spiteful is not enough to prove extreme emotional distress. Acting negligently is not enough in a lawsuit of this type. The officer cannot simply make a mistake that could cause emotional distress. Instead, it must be reasonably likely that the conduct would cause emotional distress. Courts typically want the victim to show that it was reasonably certain that emotional distress would occur from the police officer’s actions.


Extreme and Outrageous Conduct

The victim can also prove that the officers engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct. Conduct is extreme and outrageous when it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency. Extreme and outrageous conduct is the type of behavior that society will not tolerate. The conduct must be so extreme that it would cause a reasonable person to suffer extreme emotional distress in a similar circumstance. The contact needs to be more than annoying, offensive, or humiliating. Pennsylvania courts will decide whether conduct is extremely outrageous on a case-by-case basis. They will usually consider the following factors and police brutality cases:

  • Whether the police officer knew that the plaintiff was particularly susceptible to emotional distress
  • Whether there was a pattern of conduct or an isolated incident, or
  • Whether the police officer was in a position of power at the time of the incident

In one case involving extreme and outrageous conduct on the part of a police officer, a woman offered to support her husband, who was under arrest for the murder of the couple’s 3-year-old daughter. The detective heard the woman offer to support her husband and yelled that her husband had killed their child and never loved her or her daughter. 

The court determined that the officer was in a position of authority when he yelled this comment. At the time, the mother was particularly susceptible to emotional distress. As a result, the court determined that the police officer’s conduct was sufficiently extreme and outrageous, and the plaintiff succeeded in her initial infliction of emotional distress claim against the officer. (Fox v. Hayes, 600 F.3d 819 (7th Cir. 2010).


Severe Emotional Distress

Federal courts have determined that emotional distress is severe when a reasonable person in the same position as the victim would not be able to cope with the emotional distress. Additionally, the plaintiff’s reaction cannot be unusual. For example, emotional distress typically is not severe if it is short-lived or slight. The plaintiff needs to argue that the emotional distress was intense and lasted for a long time to show it was severe.

Victims of rude behavior or foul language from the police have little legal recourse in Pennsylvania. One or two visits to a psychologist and feeling embarrassed and confused is not typically enough to show severe emotional distress. On the other hand, if the extreme and intentional actions of the police officer in your case have so significantly impacted your life that you can no longer participate in your personal or professional life, you may have a legitimate cause of action.


Types of Compensation Available in a Police Brutality Case

If you have been abused or injured by the police in Philadelphia, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced attorney. An attorney can help you understand what your claim may be worth. You may be able to recover compensation for the physical injuries caused by the police, your lost income, and your pain, suffering, and emotional distress. While it is more challenging to succeed in intentional infliction of emotional distress cases, it is possible, and an attorney can help you understand the best legal strategy in your case. 


Contact Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorneys Today

At Abramson & Denenberg, P.C, our Philadelphia civil rights lawyers believe that police should be held accountable for violating citizens’ rights. If you have been the victim of police brutality, you have a right to obtain compensation for your emotional distress. Our civil rights attorneys have a proven track record of success regarding police brutality cases in Philadelphia. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation to learn more about your rights.