Claims Arising From Police Pursuits
Or Collisions With Emergency Vehicles
A Specialized Area of Practice
Victims of motor vehicle collisions in Georgia should be aware that they have a legal remedy when injured by negligent drivers of government vehicles including police who are often over-zealous in pursuing criminal suspects at high speeds. Injured parties may be able to recover from police when struck by criminal suspects fleeing from a police pursuit.
This is a specialized area of practice that requires legal counsel with knowledge of applicable law that differs from ordinary negligence law.
Claims Against Government Entities
This type of claim is pursued against a government entity, such as a city, county or Sheriff's department, when innocent members of the motoring public are injured. Claims against government entities in Georgia are only allowed to the extent that the entity has waived its sovereign immunity. Under Georgia statutory law, the sovereign immunity of local government entities for a loss arising out of the negligent use of a motor vehicle is waived up to the amount of $500,000 for injuries to an individual. The government entity can choose to waive its immunity for amounts higher than $500,000 by purchasing insurance for such claims with higher limits. In order to assert a claim based on the waiver of sovereign immunity, timely notice must be sent to the government entity in conformity with technical requirements.
When the injured party is struck by a government owned vehicle, the injured party must show that the government actor breached his or her duty to drive with "due regard" for the safety of all persons. The driver of an emergency vehicle has certain privileges to disobey traffic control devices if he or she uses a siren and a flashing or revolving light. Even when doing so, however, the driver of the emergency vehicle must continue to exercise "due regard."
Claims Against a Fleeing Suspect
When the injured party has been struck by the fleeing suspect's vehicle, recoveries are only allowed if the law enforcement officer acted with reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures in the officer's decision to initiate or continue the pursuit. Most police departments adopt a very detailed set of policies and procedures that instruct the drivers of police vehicles how to behave in pursuit situations. Many police department policies require that the officer properly exercise discretion when considering a pursuit by weighing the need to pursue a criminal suspect versus the potential for injury to the motoring public.
Under this analysis, specific factual issues surrounding the collision are important. Was the officer pursuing a criminal suspect for a non-violent offense that is not a felony? Was the identity of the criminal suspect known so that he or she can be safely arrested at a later date? How was the road configured and much traffic was there in the vicinity of the contemplated pursuit? The answers to these questions will have an impact on whether an officer has properly exercised discretion during the course of a criminal pursuit.
Creative Legal Counsel
Legal counsel must often be creative in marshalling evidence that may be needed to prove such claims. Expert witnesses may be helpful to provide opinion testimony that the officer acted with reckless disregard during the course of a pursuit. In some situations, dash cam videos that are made by the officer during the pursuit can be obtained from the government entity.
Collison reconstruction experts may be useful to testify about precise circumstances of the collision, including the speed and conduct of the emergency vehicle. The scene where a collision occurred can be precisely mapped with computer technology so that an animation drawn to scale can be made to demonstrate how a collision occurred. Most emergency vehicles are equipped with computer technology that accumulates vast amounts of data when a collision occurs. This data can be downloaded from the emergency vehicle. In some cases, investigative reports prepared by government agencies regarding a particular collision can provide an immense amount of information.
If you or someone you know was injured in a collision with an emergency vehicle or a fleeing suspect, please contact us.