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Wrongful Death

When do cities assume special protection responsibilities?

Police and local governments may be held liable for the wrongful death of a person in New York when they shoot or otherwise cause the death of that person. However, municipalities may also be held legally responsible, under certain circumstances, for not providing protection to individuals.

Generally, New York municipalities are not legally liable for injuries for the police’s failure to provide protection to an individual unless there is a special relationship between the person and the municipality. According to the New York Court of Appeals, a special relationship exists when there is an assumption by the municipality, through its promises or actions, that it has an affirmative duty to act on the behalf of the person who was injured, the municipality’s agents knew that their inaction could lead to harm to that person, there is some form of direct contact between municipal agents and the injured person and the person who was injured justifiably relied on the municipality’s undertaking.

For example, a special relationship existed between New York City and a person who collaborated with its police in the arrest and prosecution of a bank robber and subsequently received death threats. The city could be held liable when he was shot and killed three weeks after reporting these threats to the police who denied his request for protection. Significantly, his killer was never identified but was believed to have been a cohort of the bank robber.

In another case, a wrongful death action was allowed to proceed and the court found that a special relationship existed between Queens County and a person who witnessed the shooting, assisted police with the investigation and arrest of suspects and testified at their criminal trial. Although the police received information about a death threat to this witness, it did not inform her about the threat or provide her with protection. The witness was shot and killed 30 hours after the police learned about the threat.

Grounds for a wrongful death action may exist in numerous unforeseen situations. Families of persons who suffered a fatal accident through the negligence or recklessness of others should seek prompt legal assistance to protect their rights in legal proceedings and to help assure that evidence is obtained.

Source: LEAGLE, “Greene v. City of New York, 152 Misc. 2d 786 (1992),” Assessed May 11, 2015

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