Since 1979, high-speed police chases have claimed more than 5,000 lives in the United States. That’s more victims than hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and all other types of natural disasters put together. Many chases occur after traffic stops and other minor offenses.
Publically, police officers justify these reckless pursuits with rhetoric like “we cannot pick and choose the laws to enforce, and when we enforce them.” Off the record, however, police officers often admit that the high-speed chase is a huge adrenaline rush. So, despite the fact that shootable GPS locators and other devices largely eliminate the need for high-speed chases, these incidents still occur, and innocent bystanders still pay the price.
Typically, most suspects say that if officers stop chasing them, they would stop running. So, the onus on preventing these incidents rests entirely with police officers. As a result, a Brooklyn personal injury attorney may be able to obtain compensation from the police department.
Establishing Negligence in High-Speed Police Chases
Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. Most drivers must obey the rules of the road and drive defensively. These same rules obviously do not apply to police officers who are chasing suspects. However, their immunity is not unlimited.
Sometimes, a chase is not just negligent. It is reckless. In these situations, officer immunity typically does not apply. Courts use several factors to determine if a chase was reckless or merely negligent. Some of these factors include:
- Suspect’s alleged offense,
- Time of day,
- Traffic conditions, and
- Geographic location.
Assume Derek Defendant, who is suspected of armed robbery, flees from police on a highway at night. Derek loses control of his speeding car and strikes another vehicle. That chase is probably not reckless.
Now assume police pulled Derek over for a traffic stop near a school right after classes let out. He runs, and officers pursue. If he loses control of his vehicle and injures someone, the chase was probably reckless.
Liability could also be attached if the chase violated department policy. Some police departments have written policies that restrict high-speed chases. Other times, dispatchers transmit verbal commands, such as “do not pursue” or “pursue only with extreme caution.”
If a police officer, or anyone else, violates a written policy, that violation is evidence of negligence. The same is true of violating an industry-standard, such as failing to turn over nursing home patients in bed every few hours.
Policy violation claims are more difficult to win. Most anti-chase policies are quite vague, and they give officers considerable discretion. Nevertheless, these matters often settle out of court on victim-friendly terms.
In both kinds of cases, damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Who Is Responsible for High-Speed Police Chase Damages?
Generally, employers are responsible for negligent acts their employees commit during the course of employment. The respondeat superior rule applies in most car crash cases, and police officers are clearly employees of the police department.
Just like officers have immunity, police departments have immunity as well. Sovereign immunity, which shields governments from liability lawsuits, applies to discretionary acts. Decisions that involve a judgment are discretionary acts. That’s why people generally cannot sue the IRS for raising taxes or sue the county for failing to put a stop sign at an intersection.
But safely driving a vehicle is not a discretionary act. So, sovereign immunity normally does not apply in high-speed police chase claims.
Reach Out to a Tough Attorney
Reckless high-speed police chases often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Brooklyn car accident lawyer, contact Michael J. Redenburg, Esq. P.C. You have a limited amount of time to act.