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What are Your Rights When Peaceful Protests Turn Violent?

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Over the past few months, in Oakland we had the Climate March and the historic Women's March, which drew tens of thousands to Lake Merritt and downtown Oakland. Both marches were peaceful.

In Berkeley, a "Patriot Day" rally organized by Donald Trump supporters left 11 people injured and 21 people arrested when Trump opponents and rally-goers clashed. Fights broke out. People used pepper spray and threw fireworks into the crowd.

If you're in the middle of a march, protest or rally, or if you happen to encounter one on your way home, do you have any recourse if the situation turns violent and you get hurt? If you can name a defendant, you might have a case.

Under the U.S. Constitution, we have the right to peaceful assembly. Unfortunately, as we've seen in Oakland, Berkeley and cities across the U.S., these protests can become violent quick, resulting in property damage and personal injury.

If another protester injures you, you could file a negligence action against that person. If you can identify them. If you succeed in a negligence action against another protestor, you may end up with a money damages award. However, if the protestor is marginally employed, has few assets, or is otherwise "judgment proof," you may never collect any money.

If a police officer injures you, you may be able to sue in court after you file a claim with the government entity-usually the city or state that employs that officer. It's not an easy road. The law grants police officers qualified immunity from civil lawsuits for performing official duties, unless you can show that officer intentionally violated your rights or didn't act in good faith.

For example, Sam Levine sued the City of Seattle and its police department for injuries suffered when a "blast ball" used by police during a May Day protest exploded next to him. Doctors removed an inch of rubber from his cheek. A jury trial is set for January 2018.

In Oakland, an Iraq vet whose skull was fractured by a beanbag round fired by police during an Occupy Oakland protest agreed to a $4.5 million settlement. He prevailed in part due to the serious nature of his injuries and negligent training of the officers.

A number of factors come into play when disputes stem from public protests. Was it on public property? Was it after curfew? Was the injury intentional? Did the car that ran through the crowd have insurance? Did the municipality have notice of the protest and either understaff or negligently staff security?

If you got caught in the middle of a violent act during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
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