Death by Strangulation

Wrongful death lawsuits arising out of death by strangulation occur in 2 major contexts. First, police applying excessive force can kill a suspect or detainee by engaging them in a chokehold or compressing their chest or neck during a restraint. Second, wrongful death may occur when equipment is used to restrain an individual who is under the care of another individual, such as in a juvenile detention facility, a group home, nursing home, or hospital. Likewise, equipment-related strangulation can occur with small children by a wide variety of defective products and toys.

Strangulation occurs when one of two mechanisms is activated. Strangulation can occur when the neck is compressed and blood flow through the carotid arteries is compromised. Strangulation can also occur when sufficient force is used to compress the airway or windpipe, leading to an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Strangulation can occur relatively quickly. In addition, damage caused by strangulation can lead to swelling which will progressively impair the airway or arterial blood flow resulting in death.

Recent publicity surrounding various cases arising out of the fatality of suspects in police custody, including the George Floyd matter, has led to increased awareness about the risks of improper restraints. Police departments have adopted protocols preventing chokeholds and neck compression during a restraint. Police officers are being re-trained in how to restrain suspects safely.

When an individual dies by strangulation, at the hand of another, it is considered being a homicide. Homicide simply means that death was caused by another person. Strangulation can also occur as a result of equipment used during a restraint. For example, wrist restraints or side rails used to restrain nursing home patients with dementia can lead to strangulation if the individual, acting on their own, falls into a helpless position that cuts off the supply of blood or air.

Because of the risk of strangulation from certain mechanical restraints that can be used in detention facilities and nursing homes, these mechanical restraints are not favored. On occasion, restraint is required in order to protect an individual from harming themselves or others. In these instances, safe restraint can occur through locking an individual into an appropriate room, the use of barricades, chemical restraints and distraction techniques.

Generally, a life-threatening restraint is never indicated unless an individual’s own life is in danger, and strangulation is the only available method for overpowering the assailant. This is almost never the case, and also can be generally avoided by pre-planning and or distraction techniques. Unfortunately, poor training and understaffing increases the risk of unlawful, excessive force resulting in wrongful death by strangulation. A wrongful death lawyer can explore potential theories of liability, including civil rights violation, product liability and personal injury claims. If you believe you have a wrongful death case, contact a lawyer from a firm like Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A. today.