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Wrongful Imprisonment: 2 Potential Ways to Sue

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Wrongful imprisonment lawsuits can try to use two different tactics when seeking compensation for those wrongfully incarcerated.

The first is the most sensical: a suit by the former inmate against the city, state, or federal entity which imprisoned him or her. The second involves suits by the ex-inmate's family members, claiming their lives have been tragically altered by their loved one's incarceration.

How do these two types of wrongful imprisonment suits work?

Lawsuits by Former Prisoners

Former Brooklyn inmate Jonathan Fleming was imprisoned for 24 years for murder, despite the fact that there was evidence of his innocence in his case file. After more than two decades of maintaining his alibi (that he was out of state at the time of the murder), Fleming was set free in April; prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

There were allegations in Fleming's case that police had coaxed a witness into telling jurors that she saw Fleming shoot the victim. That witness later recanted her testimony. The Village Voice reports that Fleming is now suing New York City for $162 million, alleging wrongful imprisonment.

Fleming began his sentence as a man in his mid-20s, but left at age 51. Fleming's attorney told Reuters that the multimillion-dollar figure would cover "lost wages, medical expenses, and suffering." He considered the amount standard for someone like Fleming, who had been unjustly convicted and locked up for almost half his life.

Lawsuits by Family Members

The family of David Ranta is similarly outraged that their loved one spent 23 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, prompting a $15 million suit against Brooklyn detectives and New York City. Ranta was wrongfully convicted for the 1990 murder of a Hasidic rabbi, allegedly because of the unsavory tactics of disgraced NYPD detective Louis Scarcella.

Ranta sued NYC and settled his case for $6.4 million, but his family now wants compensation too. The New York Daily News reports that Ranta's children and former wife are suing for loss of companionship for the 23 years Ranta was in prison. Loss of companionship (also called loss of consortium) attempts to quantify the intangible support, aid, and affection that come from loving relationships.

However, as Ranta settled for a small fraction of his initial $150 million claim, both his family and Fleming are likely to settle for much less than they're asking from the city.

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