NYC Settles Eric Garner’s Wrongful Death Claim for $5.9 Million
Family does not consider civil victory and acceptable substitute for criminal justice.
On July 13, the City of New York reached a settlement with the family of Eric Garner, a man who died in the course of arrest about a year ago. The family will receive $5.9 million in compensation to cover the financial and emotional costs of their loss. The settlement came just days before the family would have filed a wrongful death suit for $75 million against the city.
Eric Garner’s case was a highly publicized one, spurring protests across the nation after a bystander’s video of his death vent viral on social media.
The 43-year-old Garner was allegedly selling black market cigarettes without charging taxes. In the course of his arrest for this offense, an NYPD officer wrestled him to the ground using an apparent chokehold. This tactic has been banned by the NYPD since 1993. Garner repeatedly stated that he could not breathe, and while his asthma and weight could have contributed to difficulty breathing, the medical examiner also reported finding evidence of compression in his neck consistent with choking.
This case is a good example of the fact that civil cases and criminal cases can have very different outcomes when it comes to assigning responsibility for the aftermath of an incident.
Although Garner’s death had been ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner, ultimately no criminal charges were filed in the matter. A grand jury decided that the arresting officer should not be indicted on any charge, including the lesser charges of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide, and manslaughter—all of which were considered and rejected.
However, just because criminal liability does not exist for an action does not mean civil liability is automatically ruled out.
The family of Eric Garner was wise to take their battle to civil court as an alternative means of seeking justice and compensation for their loss. While the city’s decision to settle the suit could be seen as validation of the legitimacy of the family’s claim (though officials were careful not to admit any liability), it could also represent a political move calculated to avoid further public outcry and unrest over the case.
Garner’s family has stated that they do not see their civil victory as a “win.” They still want criminal justice for their loss and will take the case to the federal level.
Do You Need Help with a Wrongful Death Case?
If you have lost a loved one due to another party’s reckless, negligent, or deliberately harmful behavior, you may be able to seek compensation with a wrongful death suit. These cases can be complex so be sure to consult an experienced attorney such as Fernando D. Vargas for advice and representation.