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My car was parked in the parking lot of a large chain grocery store, upon returning to my car I found the police in a standoff with a suspect with my vehicle right at the center. I asked if I could move my car but the officers got angry and started ignoring me. SWAT team got called in and it ended with them firing and shattering my rear window with their bullets. Officers were unprofessional and ignored my concerns.

This took place in the great state of Texas. Is there anything I can do to get them to pay for my broken window? I have the incident on video.


Updated: I forgot to add that I was standing there for 3 hours before any shots were fired, plenty of time to let me move the car.

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3 Answers 3

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There is no legal obligation of the police or any of its officers to reimburse you. It comes within a police powers exception to the 5th Amendment obligation to provide compensation for takings. Sometimes a government will compensate someone even though it has no legal obligation to do so, but this is unlikely to happen.

A petition for certiorari from 10th Circuit decision of Lech v. City of Greenwood Village (10th Cir. October 29, 2019) recaps a lot of the relevant law and arguments for changing it (the petition was subsequently denied by the U.S. Supreme Court). The question presented in the petition was:

Using explosives and a battering ram attached to an armored personnel carrier, the Greenwood Village Police Department intentionally destroyed Petitioners’ house. Afterwards, they offered the family $5,000 “to help with temporary living expenses.” The family sued, arguing that they were entitled to Just Compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the intentional destruction of their house. The Tenth Circuit, however, held that no compensation was due because the home was destroyed pursuant to the police power rather than the power of eminent domain.

The question presented is whether there is a categorical exception to the Just Compensation Clause when the government takes property while acting pursuant to its police power.

(To be clear, Texas is in the 5th Circuit and not the 10th Circuit, but there is not a circuit split on this particular issue between any U.S. Court of Appeals Circuits, and the Texas Supreme Court has not taken a contrary position.)

Needless to say, that fact pattern was even worse for the innocent citizen, because law enforcement had more discretion and time to make a conscious decision about how to respond to the "bad guy" (an armed man wanted for shoplifting and resisting arrest) in the house to which the suspect had no connection.

You could sue the "bad guys" who were involved in the shootout (if known) for causing an incident that foreseeably damaged your car, or you could make a first party insurance claim with your own car insurance.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Mar 31, 2022 at 16:02
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    So in laymans terms, if the police doing regular police work accidently damages property of an innocent third party bystander, in general the bystander (or their insurance) just has to take the loss?
    – quarague
    Apr 1, 2022 at 15:28
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    @quarague Yep, that's correct.
    – David
    Apr 1, 2022 at 19:11
  • @quarague I would dispute this was not accidental damage. A reasonable person could foresee that shooting in a parking lot would damage private property. However, you would have a hard time proving the police were negligent or acted illegally and that's where they (the department, the city, etc) get a free pass out of being liable.
    – J. Win.
    Apr 12, 2022 at 22:47
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I highly recommend having a quick chat with your auto insurance agent. The insurance company has seen almost every situation you can imagine - and many you couldn't - and tend to be experts in figuring out how to get reimbursed. They have a vested interest in you getting reimbursed since they'd rather not pay out a claim if they don't have to.

In some cases, your insurance will pay for the damages upfront and then their legal team will take care of getting reimbursed from the relevant party (their legal team is more likely to succeed than you working alone). Your specific options will vary based on whether it was the police or the suspect that shot out the window. The insurance company has lots of experience working with police reports, getting detailed descriptions of incidents, etc. so they'll be able to figure out your options a lot easier than you can.

You quite clearly were just a bystander and made every reasonable effort you could to prevent the damage, so the insurance company shouldn't be able to blame it on you and raise your rates. A good insurance agent should be able to explain exactly when these types of damages are reimbursable and how it's done, even if the damage isn't covered by your specific policy. And unlike a lawyer, your insurance agent won't send you a hefty bill for the advice.

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    Insurance companies can raise your rates whether or not you were at fault, sadly. Any claim at all can cause a rate rise, as it gets fed into the algorithm that predicts your risk. Apr 1, 2022 at 1:15
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    @Crazymoomin Their likely excuse being that "You evidently live in an area where police/criminal shootouts occur, which puts you in a higher risk bracket." Apr 1, 2022 at 16:15
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    Also, removing you from a "Good customer" program that gives you a discount for not having any claims is technically not "raising your rates".
    – CitizenRon
    Apr 1, 2022 at 18:03
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    This is 100% the answer. Insurance companies can be a pain, and you often end up on the losing side. But when it comes to collecting from someone else - either another insurance company, an uninsured party, police/government (in this case), they know what to do. Also, I know many insurance companies have deals worked out for no-deductible replacement of broken windshields - that may apply here and if, in the end, they get reimbursement from police then it shouldn't affect your rates. Apr 1, 2022 at 18:31
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    I think it isn't commonly known that it can work out very well to have your own auto insurer do all the work of getting a reimbursement. Report the problem to your insurer. I've done this: I had to pay the deductible up front, then 30 days later got a full reimbursement. (And, of course, my car fixed, dealing only with my company.) Also I've had two windshields replaced - two different cars - for $0, both times no hassle no cost. I've been a customer of the same company for >15 yrs but I don't think that was a factor.
    – davidbak
    Apr 3, 2022 at 1:22
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Yes, it was very highly unprofessional of the criminal to do that.

The criminal is the sole author of the situation

The only reason there was a standoff is because the criminal did not cooperate with police. The criminal is required by law to cooperate with police*. The standoff should have ended immediately by the criminal voluntarily obeying the officer's instructions, i.e. to get in the back of the police car.

When someone causes a civil tort in the furtherance of a criminal act, they are almost always civilly liable for the tort.

I assume there were at least two other criminal acts running in parallel: first some sort of a weapons charge since the criminal was probably not creating a standoff situation with bare fists. And second, some sort of underlying crime for which they are a suspect, which caused the police stop in the first place.

The police were doing their job, which is protecting the public. Police don't intentionally damage things. The basic "but for" rule applies: But for the criminal's actions, the police would not have shot out your window. Thus the criminal is solely responsible, and the police are blameless. They were simply doing a critical public-service job.

When litigating the civil matter (damage to your car) you don't need to "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" the underlying crime, or even the misconduct during the standoff. All you need to show is "51% more likely than not" to get the money damages you seek. That's exactly what happened in the OJ Simpson case, where OJ was acquitted criminally but held liable civilly.

The criminal won't pay. Can I stick someone else with the bill?

The the legal term-of-art you're looking for here is "deep pockets". As in, sue the guy with lots of money who is more likely to pay, regardless of guilt.

The government's pockets are deep because they are made up of all your fellow citizens' pockets.

You could also pursue the retail store, since it happened in their parking lot.

Generally when you go after people who aren't actually guilty, you're betting that they will give you a quick settlement rather than spend the lawyer costs of defending your suit. As such, they will sometimes give you payouts. It's not very nice, and Ayn Rand has a word for people who do that.

If I was like that, and I frequented the store, I'd say "you owe me $200, how about I pay you $800 and you give me $1000 in store credit/gift card". It's all the same to me, and they will see it as a nice "meet ya halfway" that isn't a lose for them. Things like that make it easier to get to "win".


* Unless there's a really fringe case where the police are corrupt, and this is reasonably well understood and documented, and higher echelon (e.g. Federal) law enforcement or spectacularly good legal work are about to validate that.

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