A fleeing suspect apparently ran a stoplight and smashed into another vehicle. The suspect and an innocent bystander died at the scene.
The McCracken County Sheriff’s Office did not say what offense a 27-year-old man from DeSoto, Illinois allegedly committed. But the department did say officers pursued him at excessively high speeds on eastbound Highway 60. The aforementioned collision killed the suspect almost instantly. The other victim, who was driving another vehicle, was airlifted to a local hospital. He did not survive.
No officers have yet been disciplined, but the investigation is continuing.
High Speed Police Chases
When people think of police misconduct, they normally think of high-profile police shootings and other headline-grabbing events. But reckless police chases kill and injure many more people than these incidents. And, Kentucky has one of the highest numbers of such deaths and injuries in the nation.
Typically, these pursuits begin over nonviolent offenses. In fact, it’s not unusual for the offense to be a traffic violation, like speeding or making an illegal lane change.
On the record, officers usually defend these chases by saying that they cannot pick and choose when and where to enforce the laws. That’s a good point, because officers must not selectively enforce laws. Off the record, however, their stories change. Many officers admit that the adrenaline rush which comes from “getting the bad guy” is simply too good to pass up.
As a result, many agencies have written anti-chase policies. The City of Atlanta has recently wrestled with this question.
In 2018, Police Chief Erika Shields enacted a policy which required officers to “maximize the safety of all police officers and citizens” when they “enforce laws.” Many other law enforcement agencies have similarly worded policies. Such language gives police officers considerable discretion. They could easily decide that safety requires a high-speed chase.
So, after a spate of high-profile incidents, Chief Shields announced a “zero-chase” policy in 2020. She blamed the courts for this move. “At this point and time, the department is assuming an enormous amount of risk to the safety of officers and the public for each pursuit, knowing that the judicial system is largely unresponsive to the actions of the defendants,” she wrote.
Indeed, available technology, mostly some James Bond-type gadgets, makes high-speed chases unnecessary. Shootable GPS trackers are a good example. Law enforcement can track vehicles without chasing them. Then, they can arrest suspects without endangering the public. The onus is on law enforcement in these situations. Most suspects say they would stop running if officers stopped chasing them.
Related issues include distracted driving among police officers and rescue responders who ignore red lights. Most police squad cars are basically mobile command centers. A dizzying array of lights and information makes it very difficult to focus on driving. As for ambulances and fire trucks, policies usually prohibit these drivers from blowing through red lights before ensuring the intersection is clear. More on these policies below.
Your Claim for Damages
The aforementioned shootings and other extreme incidents also involve the official immunity doctrine. This rule, which has several different names, gives police officers immunity from civil or criminal liability if they cause injury while they execute their official duties. However, this immunity is not unlimited. In the police chase context, a Lexington personal injury attorney can bypass this immunity and obtain compensation for accident victims if:
- Policy Violation: We talked about anti-chase policies above. Usually, agencies create these policies mostly for PR purposes. These policies still allow high-speed pursuits. However, dispatchers often send messages like “do not pursue” or “ pursue with extreme caution” in these situations. Violating a written or ad hoc policy is evidence of negligence.
- Extreme Recklessness: There is essentially a presumption that chases are dangerous, whether there is a written policy in place or not. Some factors to consider include the time of day, amount of traffic on the road, and the nature of the alleged offense. As we have seen, official immunity does not apply in situations like this.
When a police officer or other first responder was negligent, the victim usually must file a notice of claim with the city, county, or other governmental unit involved. This notice gives the government a chance to settle the claim quietly before it goes to court.
If the government refuses to accept responsibility or doesn’t make an acceptable offer, an attorney may file a damage claim in court. The court will award damages if the victim/plaintiff establishes negligence, as outlined above, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.
Damages in a negligence claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme situations.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. 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 matters. #goodelawyers