Fundamentally, an unnatural desire to “get the bad guy” causes most of the high speed police chases in Kentucky and elsewhere.
On the record, most officers justify chases by saying they cannot pick and choose when and where to enforce the laws. Off the record, they usually admit that the adrenaline rush is simply too much to pass up.
Of course, fleeing suspects have much to do with a chase. However, most suspects say that if officers stopped chasing, they would stop running. In other words, suspects feel the same adrenaline rush, only in reverse.
Twenty or thirty years ago, high-speed chases were a necessary, if risky, part of police work. Today, that’s no longer the case. Until recently, things like shootable GPS tracking devices were once limited to James Bond and science fiction movies. Now, these gadgets are widely available. But just like body cameras were slow to catch on, these chase-prevention gadgets are not very popular either.
However, the availability is key. That availability, along with the well-known risks of police chases, often enable attorneys to pierce the dreaded official immunity doctrine. More on that below.
This doctrine, which protects police officers from liability in most shooting cases, stems from the Medieval idea of the divine right of kings.
This widely-held idea, which was based on a rather questionable interpretation of some Bible passages, held that God appointed kings, queens, emperors, and other unelected rulers. As such, the sovereign could never make a mistake. Therefore, people could not sue the king or his agents. Such actions would always fail and were thus a waste of the court’s resources.
For the most part, this idea is long gone. In fact, entities like Kentucky have expressly waived their sovereign immunity, except in limited situations. Official immunity is one of these situations.
Official immunity protects public servants, whether they are elected or not, from liability actions. Homeowners cannot sue the county if their property taxes increase, residents cannot sue the city if a street’s speed limit is too high, and so on. However, this doctrine is not unlimited.
Piercing Official Immunity
In this context, the best way to defeat a claim of official immunity is to show that police officers were so reckless that they exceeded the limits of their offices.
Blatant policy violations are evidence of recklessness. Most law enforcement agencies in most large cities and towns have anti-chase policies. But for the most part, these policies are vaguely worded and give officers a great deal of discretion. So, in terms of policy violations, most attorneys look for ad hoc policies, like a dispatcher’s “do not pursue” or “back off pursuit” command.
The facts of the chase itself could also indicate recklessness. Most Fayette County courts use a number of factors to determine recklessness. Some examples include:
- Time of night or day,
- Severity of the suspect’s offense,
- Number of pedestrians near the street,
- Suspect’s danger to the community, if any, and
- Number of vehicles on the street.
Procedurally, attorneys normally must file a notice of claim before they file legal actions. A notice of claim gives the city, county, state, or other governmental entity an opportunity to settle the matter quietly before it goes to court.
Compensation is available for reckless police chase victims, but these claims are complex. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.