Avvo 1-on-1: Steps to Take if You’re Injured During a Protest


Avvo 1-on-1 is Avvo’s new question-and-answer article series featuring candid interviews with attorneys in various specific fields of law.  The goal of this series is to humanize intimidating law topics for the everyday person through stories, anecdotes, and other real-life experiences shared by attorneys.   


Our next installment features, David Joseph Schwaner, a personal injury and worker’s compensation attorney practicing in Illinois. 


Schwaner has established himself as a renowned personal injury attorney on a mission to fight back against the insurance companies on behalf of his clients. Over the years Schwaner has obtained many distinctions and awards including AVVO’s Client Choice Award and one of the Top Attorneys in Illinois by Chicago Magazine. Schwaner was nominated by his peers and selected as a Super Lawyers in 2020. Being selected to Super Lawyers is limited to a small number of attorneys in each state. 


If I were peacefully protesting and was unlawfully injured by law enforcement, what steps should I take?


Well, one of the things that I would want to do in a situation like that is immediately conduct an individual investigation. Go out to where it occurred, try to find witnesses, try to find cameras—do a substantial amount of due diligence in order to obtain the requisite amount of evidence that’s needed to try to prove the case.


As a personal injury attorney, have you ever seen a police officer prosecuted for unlawfully harming a citizen?


Yes. Police brutality is a problem. In the hypothetical scenario you raised, where a police officer is pointing a gun and shooting at someone who had their hands raised and was non threatening—almost surrendering position—I think in that case, you would definitely be able to prove that the use of force was excessive and amounts to police brutality. 


Law enforcement could potentially argue that he/she wasn’t intending to shoot the person but was intending to shoot something else. However, I believe that particular scenario has been litigated in the past successfully. 


Are Illinois officers immune to negligence? Can they get away with murder? How does that Law work?


Law enforcement officers in Illinois are immune from negligence in certain instances. Immunity to negligence is frequently raised in car accident cases where the officer alleges he/she was in the line of duty when the accident was caused. In these instances, oftentimes you will have to prove that the officer was willful and wanton in their actions.  Willful and wanton is a higher legal standard and burden of proof than negligence. So, it’s much more difficult to prosecute a police officer when you’re dealing with a willful and wanton burden of proof. 


Essentially, what that means is that you have to prove an officer’s behavior was enough to be considered willful, and nearly intentional. You don’t have to prove intent, but it’s about as close as it can get and it’s very difficult. So, if an officer harms someone and is negligent, lots of times, they can get away with it. Even though you and I as a regular citizen can not. It’s been in place for quite some time where a local court, governmental agencies and even little local villages, towns and cities have immunity from negligence. 


What can someone in this situation expect when hiring a personal injury attorney?


I first describe to them what their legal rights are. That’s important because it informs a client as to what we can and what we can’t do. Then we discuss how best to protect those rights and exercise those rights through the process of their case. So the first part is an interview with the client.


The second part involves going over certain documentation that is required for the filing of their claim or lawsuit, for instance representation agreements or medical authorizations. Then we follow them and make sure that they are receiving appropriate treatment while simultaneously prosecuting their claim or case. 


What can be done if a protestor is injured and would like to file a claim, but doesn’t have the funds to hire a lawyer?


Don’t worry about it. We represent our clients on a contingent fee basis, meaning  there’s nothing that the client would have to pay upfront, no costs or otherwise. Our firm will front these expenses which are only repaid upon the client making a financial recovery.