If an individual is injured in a Maryland car crash with a police officer or after an encounter with an officer, the individual’s ability to recover damages may be limited by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity, a doctrine that has been scrutinized in recent months, limits the ability of individuals to sue police officers after they have suffered injuries caused by police officers and other government officials.
42 U.S.C. § 1983 authorizes suits against state and local officials for violations of federal constitutional and statutory rights. The statute allows an individual to file a claim against a government official if the individual was deprived of a federal right and the government official acted under the color of state law. The statute is used by many Maryland plaintiffs to sue government officials in the state. Local governments may also be liable if the actions resulted from a local government policy, practice, or custom.
Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits after the official violates an individual’s civil rights. The doctrine only allows lawsuits if an official is found to have violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right, of which a reasonable person would have known. This often means that a plaintiff must show that the officer violated a right that was recognized by a prior court. In considering whether a right was clearly established, courts consider the action that an objectively reasonable officer would take. Courts may also consider what the officer was aware of at the time. In practice, this often means that officers are protected from lawsuits by the courts. Qualified immunity is meant to protect the government and its officials from frivolous lawsuits. However, critics have been calling for an end to qualified immunity, arguing that it bars many injured victims from recovering financial compensation.