Sometimes when suspects attempt to flee from police officers, the resulting police pursuit can result in a high-speed chase that leads to an accident. When accidents caused by police chases lead to deaths, the victims’ families often attempt to pursue wrongful death claims against the police. However, the police are not always held liable for these deaths, as a wrongful death attorney, like from David & Philpot, P.L. can explain.
Determination of Fault
Liability for deaths caused by a motor vehicle accident depends upon which party or parties are determined to be at fault for causing the accident. Whether the police can be deemed at fault depends not only upon the actions of the police officer driving the vehicle but upon state laws that govern when police are allowed to conduct a high-speed pursuit.
For example, some state laws mandate that police may only pursue a fleeing suspect when that suspect has committed a violent felony or when it is determined that the pursuit could prevent a danger to the public, such as reckless or drunk driving. While a police officer who violated state rules regarding police pursuit may be more likely to be found liable, it is not guaranteed.
Unfortunately for victims of accidents caused by police chases, in some states, the doctrine of sovereign immunity prevents claimants from recovering damages, even when a police officer is found to be at fault for the accident. The doctrine of sovereign immunity provides any government body the ability to opt to be immune to civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution. When sovereign immunity is applied, no person can sue the government, unless the government agrees to be sued. When police cause wrongful deaths in states that choose to invoke the protection of sovereign immunity, the surviving family members of victims are usually barred from collecting damages.
If the accident occurred in a state that allows wrongful death lawsuits to be brought against police, a jury must determine that the officer involved was negligent in his pursuit of the suspect and that the officer’s negligence caused the death of the victim for family members to win a wrongful death suit. Most states that allow these types of suits place limitations on the suit. For example, the state may not allow a person who was involved in a crime to receive compensation.
The laws that govern the circumstances under which police can be held liable for the wrongful death of an accident victim can be complex. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to compensation, contact a wrongful death attorney in your area to have your case evaluated.