Turn on the television any given weekend, and you may find a high-speed police chase being broadcast from coast to coast on a popular live police show. Watching the chase, you may worry about how it’s going to end, as speeds get higher and the stakes climb just as much.
Data suggests that police chases that result in crashes occur more frequently than the public may believe. Innocent drivers are often the unfortunate collateral damage in such pursuits. While the cops may have a good reason to pursue a fleeing driver, speeding around town at speeds approaching and exceeding 100 miles per hour may not be worth the collar. What happens if a police chase ends up with a loss of life? Is the fleeing driver, the police officer or the city on the hook? Find out more about how the laws might dictate how one can proceed in these situations.
Many public officials are protected under a concept known as sovereign immunity. It is a concept that has its roots in the Middle Ages and acts as a shield against wrongful and malicious prosecution of government agents doing their job. In modern times, it means that government officials are protected against prosecution if they inadvertently cause harm or damage during the course and scope of their work. This law usually protects law enforcement officers at the federal and local levels if the pursuit of a suspect results in someone being killed.
While the officer may be protected by sovereign immunity, the municipality through which they operate is not. Towns, counties, cities, and states may find themselves the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit if a person dies during a police chase. The laws governing what is allowed differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so be sure you check with a professional to see what the specifics in your area are.
A wrongful death civil suit may not be as easy to launch as you may believe. Certain elements must exist to prove that the agency under which the officer was acting bears responsibility for the crash. For instance, if a fleeing driver strikes a pedestrian, the plaintiff must show that the municipality was negligent in allowing the officer to chase the suspect. While the person who is feeling the scene is often a party to the lawsuit as well, more often, the real target is the entity that directs officer-pursuit protocols.