Two people are dead, and two others are in the hospital, following a reckless high speed police chase in Henry County.
The chase began when a Kentucky state trooper pulled over a Toyota Camry for speeding. The driver, later identified as 26-year-old Tenzal Tracy-Demarco Hill, initially stopped and then fled southbound on Interstate 71. Officers pursued the vehicle at speeds exceeding 100mph. The chase ended near the La Grange exit, when Hill’s car left the road and flipped over. He was killed, along with a passenger, 28-year-old Brandon Burnett North. Two bystanders were rushed to a nearby hospital.
A subsequent investigation revealed that Hill had some outstanding warrants in Ohio. But officers did not know that when the chase began.
High Speed Police Chases
Occasional police shootings understandably grab most of the headlines when it comes to police misconduct. But there is another activity which is much more dangerous. Since the late 1990s, an average of one person a day has died as the result of a high speed police chase. Most law enforcement agencies have written anti-chase policies. But these policies are usually quite vague and designed more for PR purposes than for practical purposes. Common language includes things like “use discretion when pursuing” or “pursue with caution.”
The reality is that high speed chases are a fixture of police work. On the record, officers often state that they cannot selectively enforce the laws. Off the record, they usually admit that the adrenaline rush that comes from “getting the bad guy” is too great to pass up.
Overcoming Official Immunity
Typically, officers are immune to misconduct claims if they were discharging their official duties. But this immunity is not unlimited. There are basically two ways to overcome immunity in police chase cases:
- Policy Violation: As mentioned, anti-chase policies are usually vague. That vagueness is designed to protect officers. But in many cases, the vagueness helps victims. Almost any pursuit can be unreasonable, depending one one’s perspective. Other chases violate ad hoc policies. For example, a dispatcher might order officers to break off a pursuit or pursue with caution in certain situations.
- Reckless Behavior: Recklessness is a step beyond negligence. Recklessness implies disregard for the safety of other people. High speed chases certainly fit that mold. Some factors to consider include the time of day, traffic conditions at the time, and the threat, if any, the suspect posed to the public.
Once upon a time, jurors almost always gave officers the benefit of the doubt in abuse of authority cases, such as high speed chases. But public perception of police officers recently hit an all-time low. Negative stories keep these numbers at this level. So, a Lexington personal injury attorney has a much better chance of obtaining compensation for victims in these situations.
Your Claim for Damages
Knowing what to expect in a high speed police chase or other injury claim helps victims make better choices.
Most civil claims, including high speed police chase claims, settle out of court. But before these claims even go to court, an attorney must normally file a notice of claim. This notice gives the city, county, state, or other peace officer employer a chance to investigate the claim and settle it quietly.
If the two sides cannot reach a favorable settlement, then the claim usually goes to court. Initially, the police department often files procedural motions, trying to get the case thrown out of court. But as long as an attorney has collected sufficient evidence before filing, these motions almost always fail.
During the subsequent discovery stage, both sides must put all their cards on the table. There can be no surprises in terms of claims or defenses.
If the case remains unresolved at this point, most Fayette County judges refer claims to mediation. A third-party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Lexington personal injury attorney, tries to facilitate a settlement between the two sides. If both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful.
Reckless high speed police chases are arguably the most dangerous kind of police work. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.