In North Carolina, a man who had crashed his car and survived his injuries from it was subsequently shot dead by police as he ran for their help (http://reut.rs/19bOtz4). The man has been identified as Jonathan Ferrell, a college football player who was unarmed during the confrontation.
Early facts about the situation indicate at least two misunderstandings. First, a 911 emergency call was placed by a resident living near the victim’s car crash who was surprised by Ferrell knocking at her door at 2:00 a.m. The resident was unharmed but her call indicates that she believed she was the victim of a home invasion.
Second, police responding to the 911 call thought Ferrell was running toward them to attack, when in reality he may have been attempting to get their attention for help. The young man was shot twelve times and died from the gunshot wounds.
The police officer who fired shots, Randall Kerrick, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and has retained counsel to defend the charge. His attorneys claim that Officer Kerrick was justified in discharging his weapon during the night in question.
If the criminal court finds Officer Kerrick not guilty of voluntary homicide, does the family of Jonathan Ferrell have any other remedies for their loss?
A wrongful death claim in civil court is an alternative in a situation where the criminal court does not find that a crime has been committed. A wrongful death attorney represents the family or estate of the deceased to seek financial compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering prior to dying, lost wages, loss of consortium (that is, loss of future companionship), funeral and burial expenses, and any past medical bills incurred before the injured party passed away.
Under a tort theory of negligence, the representative of the deceased party would need to present evidence that the police exhibited excessive and unreasonable force that resulted in a wrongful death. Here, the North Carolina police owe the duty to the public to respond to a perceived threat with an appropriate level of force.
We will have to wait and see what additional facts the resulting case uncovers. At first glance, the family of Ferrell would be wise to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney to explore possible claims against the officer in question.