We are all probably familiar with the term “excessive force” but few of us understand exactly what this means under the law.

Most simply, excessive force is when anyone uses physical force against you without justification. If someone on the street punches you in the face for no reason, that’s “excessive force.” The same applies to police and government conduct. If a police officer commits a battery against you, that’s the application of excessive force. The same rules apply no matter how severe the force is.

When someone has been the victim of excessive government force, they have a few different options. The simplest and most obvious is to sue the person directly for battery. In Pennsylvania you can sue for the common-law tort of battery if someone hurts you physically without justification. Damages are set by how much harm you suffered, factoring in how severely you were injured, the pain and suffering you were caused, and a number of other things.

A victim of excessive government force can also sue the government itself on behalf of the person who committed the battery. Oddly enough, these claims are brought under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, because if someone is subject to unlawful force by the police they have been unreasonably seized by the authorities. These claims must be brought in federal court, and are more complex. However, if a plaintiff can demonstrate that he was the victim of a pattern or practice of excessive force, or that the officer acted improperly because of inadequate training or oversight, the plaintiff may recover damages not only for his injuries but against the municipality itself for allowing this kind of conduct.

I can help with these types of lawsuits and have experience in both state and federal court litigating these matters. If you have been hurt by a police officer or other government actor, call me.