The Key Essentials of Qualified and Official Immunity

April 20, 2012 — 1,366 views  
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Consider the following scenario: while police officers are in pursuit of a known criminal who is wanted for a certain crime, the officers knock an elderly woman over. This was done purely by accident, but it resulted in significant injuries to the woman. There is a good chance the injured party will decide to pursue legal action against the police who were responsible for the harm that befell her, but this kind of situation can have grave implications for an entire department.

For instance, the fact that an individual police officer can be sued for something accidental that took place while she was simply doing what is supposed to be her job can deter candidates from wanting to be officers in the first place. It's also likely a lengthy court battle that will require the department to incur particular legal fees and take at least a few officers off the streets for some time so they can formulate their defenses and testify.

Therefore, many courts choose to grant defendants in these situations qualified or official immunity. Qualified immunity essentially absolves government officials from liability for civil damages if they inadvertently violate a known statue while in the line of duty. Official immunity extends that protection from the officer in question to the entire department so frequent lawsuits can't limit the effectiveness of an organization that desperately needs every resource it can get.