Residents and drivers in the greater Los Angeles area are no strangers to police chases. We seem to see one on the news on weekly basis! Have you ever wondered what happens in the cases when the driver trying to get away hits an immobile object or another car? Who’s at fault?
Is the Suspect in a Police Chase Liable?
Maybe . . . The suspect in a police chase may be liable for breaching the duty of care owed to others on the road, including pedestrians, cyclists, and fellow motorists. If the suspect is negligent for failing to exercise the standard of reasonable care under the circumstances, he or she could be liable for damages caused by his/her actions. This would mean that:  the suspect had a duty to take risk-reducing precautions and to conform to a specific standard of conduct,  the suspect breached that duty by falling below the applicable standard of care,  the breach was the actual and proximate cause of injuries, and  someone suffered damages. If the suspect is violating traffic laws, or any other statute, regulation, or ordinance designed to protect others, and the violation was a substantial factor in causing injuries, the suspect may be liable under the negligence per se doctrine.
Are the Police Liable, or is the Government At Fault?
In California, police officers have limited governmental immunity. California Vehicle Code Section 17004.7 provides that a public agency employing peace officers is immune from civil liability for damages for personal injury to or death of any person resulting from collision of a vehicle operated by a suspect who is being or has been pursued by a peace office employed by the public agency.
Before deciding to initiate a chase or in determining when to terminate a pursuit, police must consider factors such as public safety, risk to the public and officers, nature of the offense, safer alternatives, protection of the public, population density, weather conditions, and road/traffic conditions. If the risk to the public and police outweighs the danger to the community if the suspect is not caught right away, police must discontinue the pursuit. This is where an experienced personal injury lawyer can be of assistance.
Laws Relating to High Speed Chases
Kristie’s Law was proposed to restrict immunity for injuries, deaths, and other damages caused by high-speed pursuits where law enforcement agencies have not followed written pursuit policies even where they are appropriately established. However, each time the bill was introduced, it was either withdrawn or defeated.
Senate Bill 719
A narrow version of Kristie’s Law was signed into law in 2005. Under this bill, public entities that employ peace officers are immune from liability only if they: (1) adopt and enforce a policy for safe conduct of motor vehicle pursuits that meets minimum state standards, and (2) provide regular and periodic training for their officers regarding safe pursuits. To determine if the local police agency has met these requirements, speak with auto accident attorney in the San Fernando Valley who is familiar with these laws.
For more information on all types of auto accidents, including ones resulting from high speed and low speed chases, and to discuss potential financial recovery, contact attorney Barry P. Goldberg and his team today.