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Legal Doctrine of State Created Danger

Generally, if law enforcement fails to protect their citizens in any dangerous situation, they are not held liable for their actions, or lack of. However, the legal doctrine of state created danger is the only exception in such cases. According to the state-created danger legal doctrine, a law enforcement officer can be held liable for any death or injury that occurred because of any danger created by that officer. If the police or officer did something in a way that was obvious to bring harm or danger to a person, then that officer or police will be held liable for the harm that befell on the affected party.

The legal doctrine is founded on the idea that if the police or officer had acted in a responsible manner, then the individual or individuals would not have become victim of the increased danger. Moreover, in case of the legal doctrine of state created danger, the party affected does not have to be in police custody for the doctrine to apply, as is the case with the “special relationship” doctrine.


When a case is evaluated under the legal theory in court, the court will usually assess two things:

  • Firstly, whether the police caused danger that was not present before the encounter
  • Secondly, if the police caused an increase in the danger already present causing harm, injury or even death

The court will also determine whether the police left the plaintiff in a situation which was made more dangerous by their actions than the situation they were in before police encountered them.

A number of tests have been established to determine whether the legal doctrine exception applies. Several conditions have to be met by the plaintiff as required by the Third Circuit:

  • The plaintiff has to show that they suffered direct and foreseeable harm at the hands of the police
  • It has to be proven that the law enforcement officer disregarded the safety of the plaintiff
  • It has to be proven that the law enforcement officer created a danger that would not have existed absent his conduct

The following have to be proven or shown in the Sixth Circuit test in case of the legal doctrine of state created danger:

  • It has to be shown that the law enforcement officer acted in an affirmative manner to create or increase the potential danger which the plaintiff encountered
  • It has to be shown that the plaintiff was placed at considerable risk
  • That the law enforcement officer knew or should have known that such conduct would put the plaintiff at risk of harm

The Tenth Circuit test requires the following conditions to be met:

  • That the law enforcement officer created or increased the danger to the plaintiff
  • The action placed the plaintiff at substantial risk of serious and immediate harm
  • The officer or police intentionally or recklessly disregarded the risk to the plaintiff,

Some obvious examples of state created danger is when a police officer lets a drunk driver go without arresting them, and the driver then causes harm to other people on the road. Similarly, leaving a vulnerable individual on the road, without getting proper transportation for them which could result in them being hurt or injured is another example of state created danger.


Author Bio:

Thanks to our friends over at the Law Offices of Malcolm K. Ryder for providing this article. They provide strong representation for litigation, real estate, consumer rights & personal injury cases in AZ.

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