A routine traffic stop ended tragically when a man, who was fleeing from officers, slammed into a retaining wall, killing a 54-year-old woman.
The chase began on Highway 42 when a 31-year-old Florence man refused to pull over for speeding. Instead, the driver accelerated away, lost control of his vehicle on a curve, and crashed into a concrete wall. His passenger was killed instantly.
The driver now faces various criminal charges, mostly stemming from the chase. He also faces independent charges of criminal mischief.
Reckless Police Chases: A Closer Look
Normally, there is an outpouring of support for police shooting victims. But hardly anyone, other than a Lexington personal injury attorney, stands up for police chase victims.
Every year, the number of police chase victims far exceeds the number of police shooting victims. On the record, officers justify these reckless chases by saying they cannot pick and choose when and where to enforce certain laws. Off the record, they usually admit that the adrenaline rush which comes from “getting the bad guy” is too much to pass up.
Arguably, technology has made police chases obsolete. Suspects can run, but they cannot hide. Even a partial plate number might be enough to track down a suspect at a later date. Additionally, there are a number of James Bond-like gadgets available today, such as shootable GPS tracking devices.
In other words, police chases should never happen, and police chase injuries should definitely never happen. As a result, compensation is normally high in these claims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages could be available as well, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the officers intentionally disregarded a known risk.
It is easy to blame fleeing suspects for these chases. However, most suspects state that if the police stopped chasing them, they would stop running. So, it’s a chicken/egg thing. And, Kentucky law normally resolves these disputes in the victim’s favor.
Official immunity, the controversial doctrine which shields police officers from lawsuits in shooting cases, also shields them in pursuit injury cases. As they chase suspects, police officers obviously may disregard traffic control devices and other such rules if the road. However, official immunity is not unlimited in this context. Legal responsibility for damages could attach if:
- Extreme Recklessness: A high-speed pursuit on a straight interstate highway that has no traffic is probably not extremely reckless. Almost any other chase probably qualifies as such. Some factors to consider include the time of day, traffic conditions, weather conditions, the alleged offense (i.e. was it violent or nonviolent), and the presence or absence of pedestrians.
- Policy Violation: A policy violation is clear evidence of negligence or even recklessness. Most departments have anti-chase policies. Some are very clear, but others are extremely vague and give officers considerable leeway. There might be an ad hoc policy as well, such as a dispatcher’s “do not pursue” directive.
The city, county, or other government entity which employed the officers is usually financially responsible for damages. The respondeat superior doctrine holds employers responsible if their employees are negligent during the scope of employment.
Kentucky law defines all these terms in broad, victim-friendly ways. For example, if workers are injured during a company softball game, the respondeat superior rule usually applies. Employers benefit if their workers are happier and healthier.
Your Claim for Damages
Procedurally, high-speed police chase victims must normally file a notice of claim before they file a civil action. This notice gives the government entity a chance to investigate the claim and settle it quietly off the record.
The rules vary in different counties. Generally, the defendant has about sixty days to investigate the claim and make a settlement offer. If the defendant refuses to settle or does not make an acceptable offer, one of several things could happen.
Some victims abandon their cases at this point. They erroneously believe that their claims are weak or meritless. Some victims may immediately file claims in civil court.
Frequently, these claims go to pre-suit mediation. A third-party mediator, who is normally an unaffiliated Lexington personal injury lawyer, meets with both sides and works to facilitate a settlement. If both sides negotiate in good faith, which means they are willing to compromise in order to reach an agreement, mediation is often successful.
Police chase crash victims might be entitled to significant compensation. 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 insurance or money.