Well, once again, I must rant a little bit about a bill pending in the Arizona legislature providing immunity to police or manufacturers of “police tools” from civil lawsuits arising out of the apprehension of people committing felonies. I read today that the Arizona House has given preliminary approval to House Concurrent Resolution 2049, a bill preventing plaintiffs who suffer injury while committing or attempting to commit a felony from suing a police agency or “police tool” manufacturer for causing these injuries. The proposed legislation if passed, would prevent a criminal from suing the police, a political subdivision, the state or a “manufacturer of tools that are used to aprehend the subject” for injuries suffered while attempting to or actually commiting a felony proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
According to KVOA Television in Tucson, some people claim that this proposed legislation really masks an overall concerted effort to provide prop up the finances and provide immunity protection to Scottsdale based Taser International:
Proponents say police tools include handcuffs, guns and other items used to stop suspects. Opponents said the proposal was meant to protect Scottsdale-based stun-gun maker Taser International Inc.
It sounds like a good idea to prevent bad criminals from filing lawsuits concerning tools used in the course of their arrest and aprehension. However, I can envision a whole host of unintended consequences from this proposed bill. Perhaps the most important problem in my humble opinion relates to the standard of proof required to verify that the prospective plaintiff actually committed or attempted to commit a felony. In order to punish a criminal, the State must present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal proceeding. However, according to this legislation, if a state police agency or a “police tool” manufacturer shows that a plaintiff committed or attempted to commit a felony simply by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a civil lawsuit cannot proceed. I can envision a circumstance where a seriously injured plaintiff cannot proceed with a very legitimate product liability or negligence claim despite a finding of innocence in criminal court. While the legislation creates good sound bites, it may indeed also create bad law and other problems. I believe our judicial system has enough protections which should prevent bad people who have committed crimes from suing the police. For example, generally, police are already immune from suit absent a showing of gross negligence or intentional conduct. This requisite showing requires a substantially higher burden of proof on such claims. Also, I have said time and time again that I trust juries to make the right decisions more often than relying on our government to tell us what is right and wrong. In Maricopa County, juries will likely reject any claims by felons against police who are doing their jobs and making arrests. The same holds true for manufacturers of “police tools.” If I understand correctly, even Taser International has not lost one lawsuit involving allegations of a defective product used by police in the apprehension of a criminal felon. Even though the goal of such legislation is good, in my opinion it is not necessary and wastes our precious legislative resources. Click here to see another article from today’s Arizona Daily Star which also also reported on this legislation limiting personal injury lawsuits.