Spate of Officer-Involved Car Crashes in Pinellas County
In April 2019, two Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies seriously injured several people in two different collisions.
In one incident, 28-year-old Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Schultheis rear-ended a vehicle which was stopped in traffic, causing a chain-reaction crash that seriously injured three people. Deputy Schultheis had been with Pinellas County for less than four years.
The earlier incident involved Deputy Luis Guiral. According to a report, Deputy Guiral crossed into oncoming traffic to investigate a possible stolen car. He collided with another motorist who was making a left turn, causing serious injuries.
Both these incidents are still under investigation.
Emergency Officer-Involved Car Crashes
As early as the 1990s, the Department of Justice urged local law enforcement agencies to drastically curtail their high-speed chases. Yet every year, these incidents still kill or seriously injure far more people than officer-involved shootings.
Many law enforcement offices have adopted anti-chase policies. But these vaguely worded policies give too much latitude to police officers. Furthermore, many officers admit, off the record of course, that the surge of adrenaline which comes from “getting the bad guy” is too good to pass up.
Police officers have a great deal of leeway in chase situations. They obviously do not have to stop at stop signs and obey other traffic control devices. However, flashing lights and a wailing siren do not provide complete legal immunity. Some limits include:
Policy Violation: As mentioned, anti-chase policies are usually vaguely worded. But this vagueness works both ways. A savvy Tampa car accident attorney can easily argue that the officers violated the policy, and a Hillsborough County jury must decide the matter.
Disobeying Orders: Sometimes, a dispatcher or supervisor issues specific instructions, like “proceed with caution” or “do not pursue.” If officers ignore these directives, there is a presumption of negligence.
Extreme Recklessness: This same presumption applies if the risk/reward analysis is completely off. Officers have more leeway to pursue an armed felon than a speeder. Yet many officers treat these two very different types of criminals the same way, and that’s not right.
Damages in an emergency police chase injury normally include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Non-Emergency Officer-Involved Car Crashes
External issues like these are not the only dangers in this area. Most police patrol cars are more like mobile offices. On the dashboard and mobile computer, a vast array of blinking lights demand immediate attention. Constant police radio chatter has much the same effect. As a result, distracted driving is a serious problem among police officers. That’s especially true among new employees.
Procedurally, these distracted driving cases are different, because of Florida’s Tort Claims Act. Florida waived its sovereign immunity in these cases. Sovereign immunity is the Medieval idea that the state is immune from all negligence lawsuits.
However, this waiver is limited. Before filing claims in civil court, victim/plaintiffs must file notices with the state or other government which employed the tortfeasor (negligent actor). Typically, the government then has up to 180 days to either allow or deny the claim.
This same procedure applies in other government negligence cases, such as a negligent garbage truck driver or a poorly-designed roadway that causes a car crash.
Contact Compassionate Tampa Bay Lawyers
Officer-involved crashes, whether or not their emergency lights are flashing, often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.