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$1,00,000 Verdict Reinstated for Family of Man Shot by Police

$1,00,000 Verdict Reinstated for Family of Man Shot by Police

On May 19, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a $1,000,000 verdict for the family of a man shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer in 2008. The court also upheld a separate $700,000 verdict that the family had won in a consolidated case.

On the morning of March 25, 2008, Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, known as “Usman” to family and friends, was shot and killed by LAPD officer Joseph Cruz. Usman, a Muslim who was also autistic, had wandered from his home and had fallen asleep in front of an apartment building. Thinking he was a drug user, Cruz and his partner, David Romo, questioned Usman and asked for his identification. While Romo was checking Usman for outstanding warrants, Cruz claims Usman lunged at him with a knife. Cruz fired four shots, killing Usman.

Usman's body was taken to the coroner, but due to an oversight, his family was not notified of his death until 21 days later. By the time the family got to see Usman, his body had significantly decomposed to the point of unrecognizability, and his body had been cut up. Usman's family said the delay in notification and the decay of his body prevented them from burying him in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Three separate lawsuits were filed and after a trial alleging claims of wrongful death, excessive force, and civil rights violations, a California jury awarded Usman's family $700,000 for their wrongful death claim and $1,000,000 for Usman's pain and suffering claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Plaintiffs’ lawyers also sought over $1,000,000 in attorneys’ fees.

However, the district court struck the $1,000,000 verdict on the grounds that California law prohibits recovery for pain and suffering in wrongful death cases. The court also denied the $1,000,000 attorneys’ fees request, reducing it to just $73,000, and upheld the $700,000 wrongful death award.

All parties appealed. In a complicated ruling, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the $1,000,000 verdict, upheld the $700,000 verdict, and remanded for recalculation of the attorneys’ fees.

The Ninth Circuit held that California's prohibition against pre-death pain and suffering damages was inconsistent with §1983’s "deterrence policy," and therefore does not apply where the wrongful death was caused by a violation of federal law.

The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to reinstate the $1,000,000 verdict and to reconsider the attorneys’ fees award. Finally, the court ordered that each side was to bear their own appellate costs. See: Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles, 751 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. Cal. 2014).

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Related legal case

Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles