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NYPD Hatchet Attack: Innocent Bystander Shot; What Happens Next?

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on October 27, 2014 9:54 AM

After the hatchet attack on NYPD officers in Queens last week, the alleged attacker was shot and killed. But what about the innocent bystander who was accidentally shot by police?

A 29-year-old woman was struck in the back by officers' bullets as she was walking about half a block away, The New York Times reports. The woman remained in the hospital over the weekend.

The woman's ordeal raises questions about what happens when innocent bystanders are accidentally shot by a police officer's stray bullets.

Woman Underwent Surgery

The hatchet attack occurred about 2 p.m. Thursday, as four NYPD officers posed for a photograph on a sidewalk. According to the Times, a man armed with an 18-inch hatchet approached the officers and began striking them without provocation. One officer suffered a severe head wound; another officer was struck in the arm. Both were rushed to the hospital.

The two other officers present fired at the attacker multiple times, killing him. In the chaos, stray bullets also hit the woman, who was also taken to the hospital.

The unidentified woman underwent surgery last week; her condition Sunday was not disclosed, Newsday reported.

Officer Immunity May Affect Legal Action

Unlike injuries caused by police misconduct, when police officers cause injury while acting reasonably in the line of duty, they are often granted qualified immunity. Qualified immunity acts to defeat claims against an officer unless it can be established that the officer violated a constitutional or statutory right.

In a potential injury lawsuit against the police, the woman may be required to show that her injuries were the result of unreasonable or reckless conduct on the part of the officers. A likely alternative, however, would be a settlement of the woman's possible claims against the city as she recovers.

Previous lawsuits brought against NYPD officers in accidental bystander shooting incidents have been settled by the city. For example, a 2009 case in which a man was shot in the head during a police shootout with a robbery suspect resulted in a $6 million settlement.

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