In 2015, the family of Eric Garner reached a settlement for $5.9 million after police applied a banned chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes outside a convenience store on Staten Island. That same year, families of victims of murders committed long ago by “Mafia Cops” Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa settled their cases, bringing the total paid out to more than $18 million.
Those sums might be anomalies, but the trend is clear. The total payout for injuries caused by NYPD officers in 2017 was an unprecedented $308.2 million (up from a “mere” $92.4 million in 2007, and $152 million in 2012). That money didn’t come out of the pockets of the officers responsible for the misconduct; the bills were covered by you, the taxpayer.
That’s because police departments nearly always pick up the tab for damages caused by the officers they employ. Indeed, a 2014 study found that 99.98% of all dollars received by plaintiffs in civil rights cases against police officers were paid not by the officers themselves, but by their departments.
Fortunately, there is a better policy that is more fair to taxpayers — and has the substantial side benefit of creating strong incentives for police to avoid hurting innocent people.
Like police, doctors have a difficult and stressful job that sometimes involves making life‐or‐death decisions under conditions of uncertainty. But unlike police, doctors don’t expect the rest of us to pay for their mistakes. Instead, doctors carry professional liability insurance, which pays to defend them against malpractice claims and protects them from financial ruin by paying out damage awards to successful plaintiffs.