Eric Garner’s death has focused the nation’s attention to issues of racial bias and police brutality. Somewhat muted by the loud calls for the reworking of the entire criminal justice system is Garner’s family’s call for justice. While nothing will bring back Garner, his family searches for justice from New York City, the city and police department that is responsible for Garner’s death. The Garner family has retained counsel and will likely file a federal civil rights suit in the next few months. But the city is attempting to settle with the family even before the complaint is filed.
Why would New York City try and reach an agreement with Garner’s family before the case is even filed? Settlement is appealing to a city for a few reasons. First, the cost of a trial is incredibly expensive, particularly one of this magnitude. Second, settling with the party allows the city to shorten the amount of time being dragged through the muck by the press, something particularly important during a volatile time such as this. Third, has more control over the payout amount. If the city litigates the case and loses, there is a high possibility it will be on the hook for the $75 million the family is seeking. Settlement also allows the city to close out the case without explicitly acknowledging liability. For these reasons, settling with the Garner family is appealing to the city.
Settlements, of course, require both parties to accept the terms. Why would Garner’s family, or any victim, accept a settlement for less than its demand? Like with any other settlement, if the party rejects it and then loses the case in court, they walk away with nothing. Accepting a settlement offer from New York City, even if it is less than the amount they are seeking, still guarantees the family a large payout. Settling out of court also allows the family to skip the pain of testifying in what would surely be a long trial and get closure more quickly.
Cities across the United States, even those with large law departments amply suited to litigate these matters, are choosing to settle with victims. In the past decade, Chicago has paid out over half a billion dollars to settle police brutality cases. Just in 2013 alone, the city paid out $84.6 million—a figure three times the budgeted amount. Had these cases gone to trial, however, Chicago may have been liable for more. New York City’s approach to settling police brutality claims before lawsuits are filed has been lauded as novel. This strategy is becoming more common across the nation. David Woodman, a college student, died in Boston police’s custody in 2008. His family was offered $3 million before the case was filed in court.
Settling before filing a lawsuit is a good strategy for some cases, but not all. If you are a victim of police brutality and considering your options, it is important that retain competent representation. Loevy & Loevy is one of the most successful civil rights law firms in the country and has not only settled, but also tried dozens of police brutality cases with settlements and verdicts totaling in the millions. To learn more about our practice or if you would like a free consultation, contact us online or call us at (312) 243-5900.