A Florida police officer with 14 years of experience in the Fort Lauderdale sheriff’s office is facing a manslaughter charge for the fatal killing of a man who was carrying what turned out to be an air rifle. Peter Peraza, who is 37 and white, pleaded not guilty to the charge of shooting Jermaine McBean, age 33 and black, in July 2013. His family attorney said he probably did not hear the command to drop the weapon because he was listening to music. Two other deputies at the site drew their weapons but did not fire.
Peraza’s attorney stated that the officer would not be found guilty because no jury would bring in a conviction under these circumstances. He also said that race was not an issue in the shooting and that Peraza was just doing his job. The police officer was backed by his fellow officers, who cheered him when he left the courtroom. Peraza faces a manslaughter charge that could mean 30 years in prison if he is convicted. It is rare for a law enforcement officer to be charged as a criminal in a shooting in Florida.
If Peraza is acquitted on the charge, the family of the dead man may sue the officer in a civil trial for “wrongful death.” This may be charged following a death that results from such situations as medical malpractice, an automobile accident, or exposure to hazardous conditions.
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, it must be found that:
- the victim’s death was the result of (in this case) the officer’s negligence
- the surviving family members of the victim have a monetary loss because of the death
The people who suffer most from the victim’s death in a lawsuit are known as the “real parties of interest.” They would usually include immediate as well as distant family members and, in some cases, anyone who suffered financially from the death. In a successful wrongful death trial, the jury determines the amount of money that will be rewarded. The court, however, may adjust the amount depending upon the evidence.
A wrongful death lawsuit by the victim’s family may be brought even if the person who is charged is found not guilty in the original trial. An example isthe trial of O.J. Simpson in 1994 for two murders. He was found not guilty due to “reasonable doubt.” However, a wrongful death suit found him guilty due to what was called a “preponderance of the evidence,” and he went to prison.
The wrongful death claim is relatively new in the United States. When the country was formed, this kind of action was not allowed. Over the past century, it was created by federal and state courts and now all 50 states allow wrongful death laws in some form. In some instances, depending upon the state, government agencies and employees may not be subject to wrongful death cases.
Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one caused by someone’s misconduct or negligence may be able to file a lawsuit to recover damages. There are, in most cases, deadlines for filing such a suit. Therefore, the best course of action is to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.