Reckless Police Chase Injures Four, Including Teenager
An unmarked St. Petersburg Police vehicle smashed into a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy’s car, hurling it across traffic and into the pathway of an oncoming motorist.
The wreck occurred near the intersection of 26th Avenue South and Martin Luther King. As Officer Scott Cameron was looking for a suspect vehicle that had earlier fled from the area, his unmarked Crown Victoria hit a curb and bounced into another lane. That vehicle crashed into a sheriff’s deputy’s patrol car, and the force of the collision pushed that vehicle into oncoming traffic, where it slammed into 18-year-old Dallas Speights’ Toyota Camry.
Mr. Speights and Officer Cameron were both rushed to local hospitals via ambulance, and two other victims rode in police cars to obtain medical evaluations.
High Speed Police Chases
On the record, police departments defend dangerous high-speed pursuits by saying that they cannot choose when and where to enforce laws, and if someone breaks the law, their duty is to do everything in their power to bring the offender to justice. Off the record, officers generally admit that they feel adrenaline rushes during such pursuits and so they do not want to give them up.
Therefore, like so many other areas of law, police chase negligence cases must strike a balance between the public’s right to be safe and the officer’s’ right to “get the bad guy.” Such a balance is not easy to find.
Each year, dangerous police chases kill far more people than natural disasters or officer-involved shootings. Back in the 1990s, the Department of Justice warned departments to take steps to contain these chases, but this warning largely fell on deaf ears until fairly recently.
Advanced technological devices, such as adhesive GPS trackers shot out of small vehicle-mounted cannons, may soon render police chases obsolete and anyone injured in such pursuits may have redress in civil court. But until that day comes, police chase liability usually involves one of two theories.
Deliberate indifference is essentially the complete disregard of a known risk and a conscious decision to pursue a dangerous course of conduct. In this context, a high-speed pursuit (more than 25mph over the speed limit) through a busy area of town probably constitutes deliberate indifference, because the pursuing officer clearly does not value the safety or property of other people. The facts in the above story do not appear to support this theory.
Policy violation, however, is another matter. Disregarding a directive to the contrary, is evidence of negligence, and Tampa Police policy essentially prohibits unmarked police cars from pursuing suspects, especially if a marked car is available.
The city (which would be the defendant under an employer liability theory) would probably argue that the officer was not engaged in a “pursuit” because the suspect vehicle had eluded officers, and they were simply surveilling the area to locate said vehicle.
A jury must resolve this and any other factual dispute.
If a victim has a chance to avoid a collision by changing lanes, slowing down, or taking any other evasive maneuvers, defense lawyers usually raise the last clear chance defense. This doctrine excuses liability if the victim fails to prevent a preventable collision.
However, for the rule to apply, the victim must have the last reasonable chance and not the last possible chance. Many times, the victim does not have enough time to react or there is too much traffic to attempt a heroic maneuver.
If the jury finds that the defense applies, it usually splits liability between the victim and tortfeasor (negligent driver). Then, the judge apportions damages based on that finding.
Contact Assertive Attorneys
Dangerous high speed police chases often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.