With Big Settlements, Lawyers Find Police Misconduct A “Hot Practice Area”


Police brutality litigation is becoming a major practice area for plaintiffs’ lawyers, who are lured by big verdicts and settlements and by the increased availability of videos depicting confrontations with officers, reports the National Law Journal. Civil-rights attorneys say the cases present significant hurdles, but more mass torts and personal injury lawyers see them as a way to build business and pursue social justice at a critical time. “It's one of the hot practices of law right now you see being reported and, because of that, you'll see a lot of attorneys jump into it,” said Daryl Wash­ington, a Dallas lawyer who spoke about the cases at the annual conference last month of the National Bar Association, a predominantly black lawyers group.

Chicago lawyer James Montgomery said police-misconduct cases have become a “cottage industry” for lawyers. He said cities running the 10 largest police departments paid $1.2 billion between 2010 and 2014 to plaintiffs. “In this country, that's $300 million in legal fees,” he said. “So it's a great avenue to make money. And the police are feeding you new cases every day.” In 2013, the American Association for Justice founded a police-misconduct litigation group, which now has 70 members. “Because many lawyers handle traditional personal-injury cases, they're coming across a lot more police misconduct,” said Chicago lawyer Antonio Romanucci. “There's just more awareness, therefore a greater percentage of those cases get reported and lawyers are looking at them.” Previously, plaintiffs lawyers ­avoided police-misconduct cases because of heavy discovery costs and the difficulty in overcoming government-­immunity defenses. Some large cities, including Chicago and New York, are settling cases before they get too expensive and, in some instances, before they even are filed. Lawyers cite the $5.9 million settlement reached last month in the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York City.

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