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How do I sue the police for negligence?

Police Negligence

Suing the police for negligence is not an easy feat.

On January 5, 2011, Kathleen Mancini was asleep when Tacoma police officers knocked down her door. The officers entered with guns drawn and quickly handcuffed Mancini. Much to her confusion, they started asking her questions about a ‘Matthew Logstrom’.

The police officers were at not just at the wrong apartment, but at the wrong building, entirely.

Mancini argued that the police had been negligent in obtaining their warrant. The city tried to argue that the case only involved negligent investigation. Mancini countered, arguing that police have a duty of reasonable care that they must exercise when obtaining a warrant. By creating this distinction, she won the case (Mancini v. City of Tacoma)

Washington courts have consistently stated that negligent investigation is not an actionable claim. Negligent law enforcement, however, breaches the law and is actionable. However, the plaintiff must still face the public duty doctrine.

  • For example, there could be a police failure to investigate property after a burglary. Here, it may be possible to sue the police for negligence as the law generally requires police to investigate property crimes.

The Public Duty Doctrine

The public duty doctrine serves to protect the government and government entities from excessive tort cases. Tort cases are not criminal cases, but cases involving a civil wrong. This doctrine says that the government’s duty is to the public as a whole rather than to individuals. This usually makes it very difficult to sue the police for negligence unless there’s an exception that says they have a duty.

Washington state exceptions to the public duty doctrine include but are not limited to:

  1. Special Relationship. Many types of special relationships exist. A common example would be if law enforcement officers promised protection to a citizen. This can create a duty to that person, in particular.
  2. Legislative Intent. Laws can create exceptions to the public duty doctrine. If a law explicitly creates a duty towards a specific class of people, those people may be able claim a duty owed to them.
  3. Failure to Enforce Laws. If a government entity doesn’t correctly enforce the law and damages occur, the government entity could be liable. If a building inspector allows unsafe practices and the building collapses, they could face responsibility for any injuries.
  4. Rescue Doctrine. When the government sets out to provide aid or rescue services, they have a duty to exercise reasonable care. If they do not, they may be liable for arising damages.

If you have suffered injuries involving these exceptions consult a civil rights lawyer immediately. If you’re unsure whether police officers violated your civil rights, The Hornbuckle Law Firm offers a free consultation.

Can I sue the police department for negligence in a wrongful arrest lawsuit?

Police Wrongful Arrest

In the United States, there are many different types of civil rights violations. In each one, It’s important to first determine whether they violate state laws or federal laws.

  1. Unlawful arrest or false arrest lawsuits often involve the fourth amendment and violations of constitutional rights. This lets the plaintiff have their case heard at the federal level. There, the court may award the them punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
  2. If the injured party believes that racial profiling has played a role, that may bring the fourteenth amendment into play. This could also bring the case to the federal level.
  3. If excessive force is present, a violation of the fourth, eighth, or fourteenth amendment may be a viable claim. This would also be at the federal level. This is what people call police brutality.
  4. Negligent wrongful arrest cases that only violate state law can only proceed at the state level. At the state level, there may be a damages cap or limited jury awards. A possible example of a state-level negligence claim would be if police arrest the wrong suspect.

Filing a complaint vs. filing a lawsuit

In civil suits, where the statute of limitations is often 2-3 years, time is of the essence. Writing a complaint is often not worth the time before a viable lawsuit. Further, if the plaintiff wins, their complaint will carry much more weight. Waiting to file a complaint until after the lawsuit can often be a smart option.

I have a valid claim  and I want to sue the police for negligence. What now?

Police Negligence Lawsuit

Start by finding an experienced civil rights attorney. They will help to determine if it’s wise to bring the claim to court or not. They may also be able to estimate how long the trial may take and what size award to expect.

Alternate Claims

They may also identify alternative claims that might exist. Negligence is not always an easy case to make so some lawyers try to seek just compensation through other types of lawsuits. A common alternative is a lawsuit commonly referred to as a ‘1983 lawsuit’. When there is a wrongful arrest case, it often involves a ‘1983 lawsuit’.

A ‘1983 lawsuit’ is a reference to U.S. Code Title 42 Section 1983. This section of the law allows citizens to sue the government when it violates their constitutional rights. This type of case may be much easier to win than a negligence claim and it allows the plaintiff to sue in federal court. If someone’s negligence claim involves a violation of constitutional rights, a 1983 case might be a good alternative.

If other claims aren’t applicable, it’s important to asses the validity of the negligence claim. If the public duty doctrine applies, there may not be a valid case. However, if it’s possible to prove that the police had a duty and neglected it, it may be possible to sue them for negligence.


The next step is the start collecting evidence. Find evidence fast and finding as much as possible is key. Evidence may take the form of:

  1. Body cameras
  2. Text messages between officers
  3. Police radio messages
  4. Anything else that establishes the officer’s duty to the injured party and the officer breached it

Evidence is important to collect as it helps support a claim. If there’s a lack of evidence then there’s likely no case.


Finally, it’s important to establish harm. Harm, like evidence, comes in many forms and helps support a case’s validity. Some examples may include:

  1. Destruction of property
  2. Loss of future income
  3. Personal injury
  4. Distress or mental suffering
  5. Other valuable losses

Proving harm is essential when determining the merits of a case because it justifies financial compensation. If police officers were negligent but no harm came of it, the jury has no reason to compensate anyone.


Police negligence is a hard case to prove in Washington state. They are most often successful through 1983 lawsuits or other claims. However, if you can prove harm, supply evidence, and make a valid claim, negligence suits are a worthy endeavor. Police, like anyone, must be held accountable if they neglect their duties.

If you think police negligence has harmed you or someone you know, reach out to The Hornbuckle Firm. The Hornbuckle Firm has experience suing the police for negligence and fights hard to protect your civil rights. Don’t hesitate to call if you think you may have a case; the first consultation is free.

Jacey Liu

Jacey Liu

Civil Rights Attorney

Jacey Liu began her litigation career during law school, working as a court certified trial intern for the Washington County District Attorney’s Office in Hillsboro Oregon, where she regularly litigated child abuse and neglect cases in juvenile court. Jacey has over 10 years of experience as a practicing trial attorney in Washington, including acting as lead counsel in nearly one thousand forensically complex criminal cases. Jacey joined the Hornbuckle Firm in 2018 with the desire to put her legal knowledge, courtroom advocacy, case investigation and trial skills to work for the benefit of those injured and harmed by the wrongful acts of others.


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Please call (425) 679-0742 or contact The Hornbuckle Firm today to schedule your free nursing home abuse and neglect consultation. The firm has litigated cases in Washington, Tennessee, and Texas. We accept cases from all states across the country.

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