A few weeks ago, Breonna Taylor’s family received $12 million in settlement for their wrongful death case against the City of Louisville, Kentucky and its police department for their botched “no-knock” warrant raid in which Ms. Taylor was killed. When news broke about that settlement, I asked myself, “would she have gotten such a settlement in New York State”? My answer was “no”. That’s because New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has, in the last decade or so, narrowed and toughened a rule of law called the “public duty” rule, also called the “special duty” or “special relationship” rule. Under the recent version of this rule, no one injured by the negligence of a governmental entity (such as a city or its police) can sue for money damages unless the victim can show that the blameworthy officials had a “special duty” toward him or her. In cases like Breonna Taylor’s, that means that in New York her family would have to show that the police had some kind of verbal communication with Breonna, before she was shot, that made her feel she was safe or protected from harm.
But Breonna Taylor had absolutely no communications at all with the police before they burst open the door in the apartment where she was staying and shot her. Thus, under New York law, the police did not have a “special duty” toward her. It is very possible that a New York Court would thus have felt compelled to throw her case out based on lack of “special duty”.
In fact, this is exactly what happened in the recent New York case of Ferreira v. City of Binghamton. The facts in that case were, in all relevant ways, exactly the same as in the Taylor case. Jesus Ferreira was staying in a friend’s apartment when a SWAT team burst in with a “no-knock” warrant. The lead officer wasted no time in firing bullets into the unarmed Ferreira. Ferreira had done nothing wrong. Fortunately, unlike Taylor, Ferreira did not die.