Philadelphia police officers are supposed to protect and serve the residents of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Police Department has a long history of engaging in police brutality, discrimination, and other unlawful actions. If you or your loved one have been assaulted by the police or denied your civil rights in another way, you may be feeling powerless and frustrated. Thankfully, there is a way for you to fight back and obtain justice in your case through a civil rights lawsuit against the police department that caused you harm. 

Do I Have a Case?

If a police officer has harmed you, you have rights as a citizen of the United States. You have protection under state laws, federal civil rights laws, and the Constitution. You may be wondering whether you have a valid case to sue the police department for violating your rights. Civil rights cases against police departments are typically complex and require the inside of an experienced attorney. 

Rights violations are taken seriously by the police department, which has its team of attorneys who are prepared to defend the department against legal claims. If you are wondering whether you have a case, we recommend discussing your case with an attorney who can help you decide on the best strategy to move forward. Your attorney can also help you organize evidence so that you can argue when your civil rights have been violated or when police have engaged in misconduct. Do not wait too long to discuss your case with an attorney because there are time limits, called statutes of limitations, in these cases. If you don’t file your claim in time, you could lose the right to sue the police department, even if you have a valid claim against it.

When Can I Sue the Philadelphia Police Department?

When police officers engage in unlawful misconduct and violate a citizen’s constitutional rights, the victim may have the right to sue the police officer. Certain circumstances allow residents to file a lawsuit against the police department itself and, in some cases, the police officer personally. Succeeding these types of civil rights lawsuits can be difficult, but it is possible. Recently, residents of Philadelphia have had several victories suing the police department. Multiple types of police behavior can be classified as misconduct, such as:

  • Police brutality
  • Perjury
  • Actions of corruption
  • Falsification of evidence
  • False arrest
  • Racial profiling
  • Coercion
  • Imprisonment
  • Fraud
  • Abuse of authority
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Spoliation of evidence 

Some types of police misconduct claims are more common than others. For example, police brutality claims are among the most common types of lawsuits citizens bring against the Philadelphia Police Department. Depending on the facts in your case, you may have a right to bring more than one police misconduct claim against the police department. For example, if police injured you in an unjustified, brutal arrest and then lied about it in court, you could see damages for police brutality and perjury. An experienced civil rights attorney can help you understand what types of claims you have based on the facts of your unique case.

Should I Sue the Police Department?

Some victims of police misconduct have a right to pursue private lawsuits against the police officer based on what happened. Working with an attorney can help you determine all the potential defendants who you may be able to hold liable in a civil rights lawsuit. They can also discuss what actions you will need to take, including administrative and legal actions. You will need to go through a specified process to bring a claim against the Philadelphia Police Department, for example.

Does the Police Department Have Sovereign Immunity?

Police are immune from legal claims because they have sovereign immunity, which protects government agencies from certain types of lawsuits. As a result, people cannot sue the police department in many different situations in which the police have acted negligently or wrongly. For example, suppose a Philadelphia resident was injured in a car accident while riding in a police vehicle to the station for questioning. In this case, the citizen would not be able to sue the police department for negligence, even if the police officer caused the car accident because of texting or any other type of negligence.

Under federal law, however, U.S. citizens have the right to sue the police department for violating their rights by filing a “Section 1983” claim. Specifically, 42 U.S. Code §1983. Specifically, victims of police misconduct can bring a civil rights claim against any government entity that has deprived them of their “rights, privileges, or immunities” afforded citizens by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Residents can sue Pennsylvania police departments for depriving them of their constitutional rights. Those who are successful can be awarded monetary damages to compensate them for the harm and injuries they have endured due to the police department depriving them of their constitutional rights. 

Common Types of Police Misconduct Claims

Understanding the types of actions police departments are not allowed to do can help you understand whether you have a right to bring a lawsuit against the police department. Talking to a lawyer soon after the accident will allow you to bring forth evidence of the incident while it is fresh in your mind. The longer you wait, the harder it is to obtain evidence that misconduct occurred. 

Your attorney will be able to carefully review the facts in your case and the evidence you have and help you understand whether you have experienced one of the common types of police misconduct that is unlawful, giving you a right to sue. Due to case law and previous judicial interpretations of these types of lawsuits, you will have a greater chance of success in some types of claims than others.


Unfortunately, police harassment is one of the most common police misconduct claims in Philadelphia. Harassment involves a pattern of behavior on the part of the police officers or the entire police department, such as:

  • Surveilling or spying on a person illegally
  • Racial profiling
  • Making homophobic, racist, or sexist comments

Unreasonable Searches or Seizures

Citizens in the United States have a right to be protected from unreasonable searches or seizures, as written in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Since police officers are considered government agents, they must abide by the Fourth Amendment. When a police officer violates your Fourth Amendment rights, such as arresting you without probable cause or searching your home without a warrant, you may have a valid claim against the police department.

Police Brutality/Use of Excessive Force

When police officers arrest a person, they cannot use excessive force or brutality. When a person suffers a serious physical injury because of the excessive force of police officers, they have a right to sue the police department for all the expenses related to that injury, including their pain and suffering. When a family has a loved one who passed away because of excessive force by a police officer, they can bring a claim against the police department. 

The police brutality victim or their surviving family member will need to provide evidence proving several different elements. They will need to show that the police officer used a completely unnecessary amount of force. They will also need to prove that the police officer could have accomplished his or her goal without using brutality or excessive force.

False Arrest

A false arrest violates your Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. False arrests occur when a police officer arrests a person without the legal authority to do so or outside of the scope of their authority. For example, if a police officer does not have an arrest warrant and the entire reason they are arresting someone is to harass them because they do not like them, the victim would have a right to bring a Section 1983 claim against the police officer violating his or her rights.

It is important to understand the difference between a bad arrest and a false arrest. Police officers cannot be sued if they have reasonable cause to believe they committed a crime or were committing a crime. Even if evidence comes to light that they were mistaken, as long as they have reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed, they can arrest someone. An attorney can help you understand whether the police officer had a reasonable belief that justified the arrest. In many cases, false arrests involve some type of police brutality. If you believe that you were falsely arrested, it is important that you reach out to an attorney as soon as possible.


Discrimination by a police officer is somewhat similar to harassment. Most of the time, police officers discriminate against someone based on their gender, sex, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Proving discrimination can be challenging, but in some cases, there is evidence that there is an overall pattern of discrimination against a particular class by the police department. 

In discrimination cases, a victim may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the police department for violating their rights. Additionally, they may be able to file a complaint against the police officer or the entire department. Discrimination cases need to be filed with the police department’s Internal Affairs Division of the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice will investigate the claim and determine whether they want to keep investigating it. They can either choose to file their own civil or criminal case against the law enforcement agency or allow you to do so yourself.

What is My Case Worth?

Successfully suing a police department is challenging, but it is not impossible. You may be wondering whether it is worth it to pursue suing the police department. If your rights have been violated by the Philadelphia police or any other Pennsylvania Police Department, it can be challenging to assign a value to all the losses you have suffered. 

You may have physical injuries, fear, embarrassment, and anxiety. The misconduct may have affected your career and your personal relationships negatively. When you have a valid claim to sue the police department, you are entitled to be made whole for your injuries, even those injuries that are not obvious. Depending on the facts of your case, you could be entitled to the following types of damages.

Compensation for Your Physical Injuries

Successful plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for all their past and anticipated medical expenses related to their injuries. You are entitled to compensation for medical expenses covered and not covered by your insurance. We can work with you to develop a comprehensive estimate of your future medical expenses. 

You are also entitled to compensation for all the time you missed at work due to being injured by police brutality or falsely imprisoned. If you are no longer able to work in the future, you can recover compensation for the loss of future earning potential. Finally, you are entitled to compensation for your pain, suffering, and emotional distress, Even if you did not suffer any physical harm. An experienced civil rights attorney can help you assign a concrete, and comprehensive value to your civil rights claim.