Month: December 2015

Daniel Holtzclaw Violated the Victims’ Civil Rights

Former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was charged with 36 counts of sexually assaulting 13 African-American females between December 2013 and June 2014, while serving as an Oklahoma City Police Officer.  On December 10, 2015, Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 counts, including four counts of first-degree rape.  Of the 13 victims, Holtzclaw was convicted of sexual offenses involving 8 of the victims.  It is quite possible that Holtzclaw will spend the rest of his life in jail.  However, for these 13 victims, it is also clear that their Civil Rights have been violated by Holtzclaw and, possibly, by his supervising officers and/or the Oklahoma City Police Department.

These 13 victims, and any other victims of Holtzclaw, would have a Civil Rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.  §1983.  Section 1983 provides a private cause of action to anyone whose rights, secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, were violated by a person acting under color of state law.  These women’s’ rights were clearly violated.  One possible right that would have been violated would be their substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Due process protections have been provided “to matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity.”  Clearly, a police officer sexually assaulting someone would violate their right to bodily integrity.  Williams v. Berney, 519 F.3d 1216 (10th Cir. 2008).

Likewise, Holtzclaw would clearly have been acting under color of state law.  Based on the allegations that have been made public, Holtzclaw picked these women up, while on duty, and sexually assaulted them.  Because he exercised power “possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [he] is clothed with the authority of state law,” he would be said to have been acting under color of state law.  West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988).  While he was committing these crimes he was acting in his capacity as a police officer and with the authority provided to him by state law.  As a result, this is one of the clearest examples of someone acting under “color of state law.”

Further, there may even be a claim against his supervising officers or against the City of Oklahoma City.  However, these are much more difficult.  The victims would have to show that their rights were violated by virtue of the supervising officials “own conduct.”  Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1197 (10th Cir. 2010).  This is a difficult burden, but if the victims can show that the supervising officers set in motion a series of events that they knew or reasonably should have known would cause Holtzclaw (or other officers) to violate the rights of the victims, then they could also be held personally liable.

Similarly, if the victims can show that there was a policy or custom of the City of Oklahoma City that caused their rights to be violated, the City could be held responsible for Holtzclaw’s actions.  However, this is a very difficult burden, as the victims would be required to demonstrate and identify a specific deficiency in the policies and/or procedures that was obvious and closely related to their injuries.

Finally, even though Holtzclaw was only convicted of sexual offenses relating to 8 of the 13 victims, the other 5 victims would absolutely have a civil rights claim against him.  This is because the required standards of proof are different in a criminal case and a civil case.  In a criminal case, each allegation against Holtzclaw had to be proven beyond a preponderance of a doubt.  This is the highest burden of proof in our legal system.  However, in a civil case, which a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations against Holtzclaw would be, the burden of proof is only beyond a preponderance of the evidence-often referred to as more probable than not.  This burden is much lower.  Because this burden is lower, these women would still have a civil rights claim against Holtzclaw.  Ultimately, not only has Holtzclaw committed multiple crimes for which he will be punished, but he has also violated the Civil Rights of these women and they are entitled to bringing a claim against him, personally, for these violations.

Are My Medical Bills Covered?

If you have been injured in an automobile accident or a premises liability slip-and-fall case, one of the first things you have probably wondered about was how were your medical bills going to be paid.  This is a very important issue for you and there are several different factors and strategic decisions to be made.

  1. If the accident is your fault: If the accident is your fault, then the other driver’s insurance company will not be helping pay for your medical bills.  In a situation like this, you may still use your health insurance to help pay the cost of your medical bills.  You may also have medical payments (med pay) coverage on your automobile insurance policy.  Typically, med pay policy limits in Oklahoma are less than $10,000.00, but under Oklahoma law they are available to you regardless of who was at fault for the accident.  It is very important to contact your insurance company after an accident to determine if there is med pay coverage available to you.
  2. If the other driver is at fault: If the other driver is at fault for your accident and your injuries were caused by the accident, then the other driver or their insurance company will be responsible for reimbursing you for your damages.  Your damages include any medical bills you have incurred or any future medical bills you will incur.  But, and this is important, the other driver or insurance company is not required to pay your medical bills as you incur them.  In a normal case, they will only look at settling your case once you have completed all of your treatment.  Many hospitals and medical providers will agree to hold your bills and not turn them over to collections until your case has been settled.  However, some will require you to pay them immediately, to avoid having the bill turned over to collections.  It is important to communicate with the hospital or medical providers early on.  Keep in mind, even if the other driver is at fault, you can still receive your med pay benefits from your automobile insurance company.  In Oklahoma, you are allowed to “double dip” and receive a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company and receive your med pay benefits.
  3. If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident or other premises liability case: If you are not injured in a car accident, but are injured at a business or on someone else’s property, the business or property owner may be responsible for your medical bills.  Basically, if the business was negligent-legally responsible for your injuries- and failed to maintain their premises in a safe condition, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  If this is the case, typically, you will be able to get med pay benefits from the business and a settlement for your injuries.  However, even if the business was not negligent and, thus, not legally responsible for your injuries, you may still be able to recover med pay benefits to help pay your bills.

It is important to keep in mind that in none of these situations are your medical bills paid as you incur them.  An attorney can often help during this process by contacting the medical providers and letting them know that you are represented and that a claim is being made for your injuries.  An experienced personal injury attorney can also help ensure that you maximize your recovery through any and all available insurance.  Finally, an attorney can help to negotiate your medical bills with your medical providers, so that you end up with more money in your pocket.  If you have any questions or if you or a loved one has been injured and is trying to figure out how to pay medical bills that you have incurred, feel free to contact a personal injury attorney at The Cotton Law Firm for a free consultation.