Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., speaking for a 5-3 majority, said the key issue is whether the police used "physical force" in an attempt to arrest or restrain someone.
"We hold that the application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure even if the person does not submit and is not subdued," he said in Torres vs. Madrid.
The court's ruling gives more legal protection to fleeing suspects and others who are injured trying to escape officers. In the past, judges have often held that claims for excessive use of force and an "unreasonable seizure" are limited to situations where officers had physical control over a suspect.
Thursday's ruling revives a lawsuit brought by a New Mexico woman who said she was wrongly shot when officers arrived at her apartment complex planning to arrest another person. When the woman, Roxanne Torres, saw the officers, she believed they were armed criminals trying to carjack her and tried to drive away. She was shot several times.