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Understanding Section 1983 Claims

The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III  March 23, 2023

Scales of JusticeLike it or not, we depend upon police officers for a certain amount of law and order in our society. Thankfully, much of the time they handle their job and responsibilities competently. However, there are unfortunate incidents where someone representing the state or federal government violates the civil rights of an individual and must be held accountable. These are referred to as Section 1983 claims. These claims can be some of the most complicated cases to bring forward. 

If you feel your civil rights were violated by a police officer or another government representative, reach out to me at The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III. As a civil rights law attorney based in Seattle, Washington I can represent clients throughout all of Western Washington, including the Puget Sound Area, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett. Set up a consultation to get started. 

What Is a Section 1983 Claim?  

A Section 1983 claim is a way for an individual to bring a lawsuit against a representative of the government who violated their civil rights in some way. The representative must be someone working “under color of law,” meaning they’re acting in a legal capacity for state or local government. The most common example would be a police officer, but this can also include prison guards, judges, public officials, or even a care provider at a public health facility.   

When people ask, “What is a section 1983 lawsuit?” they’re often referring to a case of police brutality or use of excessive force. However, there are other reasons to sue under Section 1983 such as having your freedom of speech or assembly violated, unreasonable search and seizure, imposing excessive bail, or being pulled over due to racial profiling. 

Requirements for Section 1983 Relief  

Any Section 1983 lawsuit must be associated with a federal civil right outlined in the Constitution or federal statute that’s been violated. This type of lawsuit cannot be used against a state law. Furthermore, the actions committed against you must be intentional and not due to mere negligence. 

What Damages Are Available?  

There are two main types of damages available in cases like this: compensatory (monetary), and injunctive relief. You may be able to receive monetary compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, future lost wages, property damage, or pain and suffering. These damages must be presented with substantial evidence. Injunctive relief (also called prospective relief) is intended to ensure that similar violations don’t happen in the future.  

Possible Section 1983 Lawsuit Defenses  

The most common defense that a government official will raise when confronted with a Section 1983 lawsuit is called qualified immunity which can be very effective. This rule protects officers of the law (or other government officials) from being held personally liable for their actions when carrying out their job duties. Essentially, it takes into account that officers must make in-the-moment decisions under stressful conditions, and they should be able to do this without fear of a lawsuit should they make a mistake. 

Why Work With an Attorney  

Bringing forward a Section 1983 lawsuit is notoriously difficult and should only be attempted with the help of a seasoned attorney. Because of qualified immunity laws, you must prove that the officer was acting in an egregious manner and that they should have known their actions were in violation of the law. This requires collecting a preponderance of evidence as well as having an extensive understanding of federal and constitutional law. A good lawyer should first thoroughly examine your case, and then give you honest advice as to the likelihood of a successful claim. 

Understand & Fight for Your Rights  

If you're in the Seattle, Washington area and have had an interaction with the law that left you asking, “What do I do if my civil rights have been infringed upon?” contact me as soon as possible. At The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III, I’m here to help you protect your rights and move forward with confidence.