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A personal injury perpetrated by the police or corrections officers is unique in that it also involves a violation of civil rights. Section 1983 of the Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights Act, a part of the Federal Civil Rights Act, permits victims to seek compensation by filing private lawsuits over violations of federal law committed by state actors.

Section 1983 claims can be filed for many reasons, and they are commonly used as a method of redress when someone has been the victim of excessive force. Even though these claims are filed often, they raise complex questions. If you believe you have been the victim of police brutality or other illegal treatment, an experienced New York civil rights lawyer can determine whether you have a valid Section 1983 claim.

What is Section 1983?

Section 1983” refers to a section of federal law contained in Title 42, Chapter 21, which protects civil rights. Section 1983 states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

One does not violate Section 1983 alone; there is always an underlying violation of another federal law. In addition to police brutality, examples of underlying abuses of authority include false arrest, racial profiling, and unlawful detention. Essentially, the statute allows federal courts to hear claims against state actors for violations of federally guaranteed civil rights.

Who can a Section 1983 claim be filed against?

The statute makes “persons” liable for violations of constitutional and other legally protected rights. “Persons” means individuals, but it also includes political subdivisions that are smaller than a state– including municipalities and counties. In addition, the “person” must have been acting “under color of law.” This means they must have been misusing authority conferred under state law when they caused the damage.

Considering these requirements, police officers and the cities that employ them are “persons” under the statute and are often named defendants in police brutality and misconduct lawsuits.

Determining whether someone was acting under the color of law is not always straightforward. In some instances, an off-duty police officer may be found to have been acting under the color of law. In others, an officer on the clock may be found not acting under the color of law. This fact-intensive analysis takes a trained eye.

Damages available in a Section 1983 lawsuit

Those who prevail on a Section 1983 claim are eligible for both compensatory damages and an injunction.

Compensatory damages are monetary compensation awarded for financial losses like medical bills and lost wages, as well as non-monetary losses like pain and suffering and loss of liberty. In some cases, punitive damages may also be available. In a police brutality case, a court may issue an injunction requiring a police department to change its policies regarding how it holds prisoners or ordering training to prevent future misconduct.

The damages available will always depend on the facts of a case. If you have been mistreated by the police or corrections officers, a skilled civil rights lawyer can help you understand what damages might be warranted in your situation.

Speak with a civil rights lawyer in NYC

Unfortunately, misconduct by representatives of the NYPD is still an issue. If this has happened to you, consider speaking with an experienced New York civil rights attorney at Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb, Green & Bagley, P.C. We represent individuals in Manhattan and throughout the city, holding police departments and other defendants accountable. Call today to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation consultation.