Police dogs, just like human police officers, occasionally get the wrong man. But when the police "officer" detaining you has Vise-Grip jaws and razor-sharp teeth, a mistake can damage more than just your dignity.
Case in point: A South Dakota man who police say was an innocent bystander was mistakenly bitten by a police dog, The Argus Leader reported earlier this week. Cops were able to call the dog off the bystander and onto the actual suspect, who was then captured. But both the suspect and the bystander were sent to the hospital with injuries.
In this case and in others, can a police dog bite victim sue the cops for damages?
When 'Taking a Bite Out of Crime' Goes Bad
Unfortunately for victims, suing the police is a bit more complicated than just suing a typical dog owner. As you might imagine, police officers are generally afforded broad powers to carry out their duty to serve and protect the public.
Overcoming this immunity can be done by showing unreasonable conduct by the police, such as the use of excessive force, or by alleging negligence in the training of either the police dog or the dog's handler.
In the South Dakota man's case, police have admitted a mistake occurred; an internal review is underway.
How to File a Police Dog Bite Claim
Once you've determined that you may have a viable claim against the police, there are a few steps you will most likely have to take before you can get your case against the police into court:
- File a government tort claim. Most governments have enacted laws that contain rules for filing an injury claim against them. The procedures for these claims differ from state to state, but generally you must make the government aware of your injury by filing a standard form, usually known as government tort claim.
- Wait for the government to respond. The government will have a set amount of time in which to respond to your claim. If they fail to respond, or reject your claim, you can then proceed with a lawsuit.
- Find an experienced attorney. Even with a rock solid claim, you may need the help of a civil rights attorney who is well-versed in proceeding with claims against government agencies.
Even suspected criminals have sued the police for injuries caused by police dogs, such as a Louisiana man who was bitten in the penis by a police dog and sued the police for $30 million. It's not clear if that lawsuit has been resolved.