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Apr 22

Lawsuits are not just about money.

Posted on April 22, 2015 — by Michael Ely

This is an interesting lawsuit that arose out of a tragic automobile accident that killed a young college student.  Apparently, the single car accident involved the decedent and her ex-boyfriend, who was driving the vehicle while allegedly intoxicated.  Usually a case arising from those set of facts would be a wrongful death lawsuit against the allegedly intoxicated driver.  However, this particular case that is proceeding to trial on Monday is against the police who investigated the accident.

Apparently, according to the article, the deceased victim was found in the backseat of the accident vehicle, fully clothed.  However, afterward, Cook County Sheriff’s officers stripped her body naked on the side of the road in order to take photographs.  The Sheriff’s departments’ spokeswoman claims that this was done in order to collect evidence.

However, this does not make much sense.  The evidence for a DWI fatality would be a breathalyzer or blood samples from the accused (which they got; he had a BAC of about three times the legal limit) and the fact that there was a fatality as a result of the accident.  The victim was clearly deceased; there was no need to have pictures taken of her naked body.  Further, photographs of how the victim was found at the crime scene might be warranted, but I cannot comprehend why the victim was subsequently stripped and photographed.  Even if these naked photos were for some reason needed, it would have been far more prudent to have these pictures taken somewhere private, like at the morgue.

The issue in a case like this is what are the damages?  The victim’s privacy was clearly violated, but she is deceased.  While this does not bar recovery (her estate can bring her claim), it muddles the question of the effect that this invasion had on her.  However, the attorney for the victim’s family states that the lawsuit is not about money.  

This is a fine example of why lawsuits are not just about money.  Clearly, there is a wrong that the family wants righted.  Other than through a lawsuit, how else could that goal be accomplished?  Their only other recourse would be to file a formal complaint with the Sheriff’s office, which is already on record defending their behavior.  How much success would a formal complaint have led to?  The only way to right this wrong was through litigation, which will draw attention to the circumstances and will very likely change the future behavior of investigating officers.  If nothing else, any favorable jury verdict will provide validation for their complaints. 

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