Who Is Liable For Injuries Caused By Police Chases?

imagesA police officer spotted a criminal and followed in hot pursuit. The culprit hit a curve, flipped over and landed in oncoming traffic.

No, this was not a scene from a new action movie. This happened in Fort Worth last week on Northside Drive when eight people were injured in a Fort Worth police chase crash, including the suspect who is in critical condition. Here’s a photo from the scene published by the Star Telegram.

Why did this happen? To try to stop a car thief.

Really? While we all want the police to stop crime, this dangerous chase should not have happened.

Police Chases Kill One Person Every Day

The Texas Department of Public Safety estimates that our state troopers engage in about 900 high speed chases per year, with many of them involving speeds of greater than 100 miles per hour.

Police chase wrecks kill 329 people and injure about 7,400 every year. Almost half are innocent bystanders.

The suspect and police drive insanely fast, run red lights, swerve in and out of lanes, blaze through crosswalks, and make other reckless maneuvers.

Adding to the dangers, most officers have received little training in chasing suspects at high speeds.

In 92 percent of all chases, police pursued suspects for minor traffic violations and nonviolent offenses like shoplifting or broken taillights, according to USA Today.

These are serious problems clearly not worth the deadly risks to motorists and pedestrians.

Police Chases Are Outdated 

Furthermore, technology gives police the tools they need to safely track and apprehend offenders. The era of the dramatic police chase is over — or should be.

For example, the James Bond-like Star Chase allows police to identify and track a fleeing driver. The officer targets the car with a laser and launches the GPS projectile that attaches to the suspect’s vehicle. Police can then coordinate with each other on following the suspect at controlled speeds until he can be safely apprehended.

More mundane tools include radio and mobile phone transmissions, BOLOs and camera monitoring that allow officers to observe the suspect until the moment to make a safe arrest arises.

What to Do If Injured By Police

If you were injured by the car or truck driven by a suspect fleeing from the police or the police officer’s squad car, what should you do?

While you may have a right to compensation, suing the police department, State of Texas, or the city or municipality is difficult.

Why? Police officers are often granted sovereign immunity under Chapter 101 of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, the Texas Tort Claims Act. One of the leading cases on this subject arose out of a Dallas collision and the requirements for successful litigation were analyzed by the Texas Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Dallas Area Rapid Transit v. Whitley.

A personal injury lawyer has to overcome this high hurdle by proving that the chase was negligent and unnecessary. Factors that courts consider include the following:

  • Speed of officer’s car
  • Use of sirens and warnings
  • Traffic conditions
  • Time of day or night
  • Length of chase
  • Training of officer
  • Departmental policy

Recent Case Shows Onerous Burden of Proof Required

A case decided in early September shows how stacked the deck is against the injured person.

In Torres v. City of Corpus Christi, a woman was hurt by a police officer chasing a car thief. His emergency lights and sirens were on when he crashed into the plaintiff’s car as he hit a curve. The wreck was the police man’s fault. He was cited for causing the crash, was sanctioned by his department by violating policy, and he even admitted in his deposition that he was entirely to blame (which rarely happens).

After the plaintiff sued, the defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction raising the defense of immunity. The trial court granted the plea because the plaintiff could not prove how fast the officer was going before he slammed on his brakes. The appellate court affirmed the defense, so the plaintiff recovered none of her damages.

If you or someone you know has been injured in any type of car or truck collision, you should speak with a personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.

 

 

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