Victims of Police-Chase-Related Accidents
The prevalence of police pursuits ending in injury or death have increased over the years. During a study that spanned nearly a decade and ended in the early 2000s, there were more than 3,000 fatalities. Of that number, about 1,000 were not fleeing from the vehicle. In 2015, a report showed that police chase deaths rose to the highest point with 322 for the year. Also, the report showed that more than 50% of the fatalities of police chases during the previous three decades were bystanders and vehicle passengers. Since then, the rates have increased. Today, about 50% of people who are injured in law enforcement pursuits are passengers of vehicles or bystanders. Due to data inconsistencies, the number of reported bystander injuries and deaths may be underreported across the nation.
Police pursuit accidents have been especially problematic in California and its urban areas. Despite less traffic on the roads in 2020, it was the deadliest year for California law enforcement pursuits with 470 deaths. More than 90 were passengers, and more than 90 were bystanders. From 2005 through 2020, there were 109,941 police chases reported in California with 25% ending in collisions. More than 15,000 people sustained injuries from those accidents. Los Angeles is the city with one of the highest rates of police chase injuries. If you or someone you know was injured in a police chase, it is important to know what you should do next and what to expect.
Dangers of Police Chases
When there is a high-speed chase, everyone in the area is at risk. In SoCal, news stations usually report on and follow these chases via helicopter. However, anyone who sees a chase underway should try to get off the road and stay out of the path of it. These are some of the common dangers of police chases and the types of accidents that may result from them:
- Pedestrian accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Bus accidents
For people who are on foot, bicycles or motorcycles, the effects can be especially severe since they can be more vulnerable to injuries than people in cars. Brain injuries and more severe injuries can be permanent and debilitating.
Who Is Liable for Injuries Caused in Police Pursuit Accidents?
Liability depends on several factors specific to a case and the incidents surrounding it. However, there are a few potential liable parties.
Police or Law Enforcement Departments
In California, not all accidents involve local police departments. Some involve county sheriff or CHP vehicles. Today, many people feel intimidated to go after a law enforcement agency. While it may seem impossible to collect compensation from a law enforcement agency, it is possible. The state has specific procedures and requirements for police to follow during high-speed chases or other pursuits. If they do not follow these procedures exactly and cause injuries to people involved, officers or their departments can be liable.
Law enforcement officers have a duty to not unnecessarily put property or lives at risk. There are strict guidelines they must follow that are connected to Vehicle Code Section 17004. If they want immunity from the code, they must not violate any of the procedures. For instance, there are requirements for how many law enforcement vehicles and types of vehicles can be used since more vehicles involved increases the risk of collisions. Also, they must only pursue suspects in certain cases. They must consider the nature of the area as well. Areas with a lot of foot traffic and residential areas must especially be treated with caution.
Passengers and drivers of other vehicles, bystanders who may be hit by a speeding police vehicle, passengers of chased vehicles and even the drivers of the vehicles being chased may be eligible to collect compensation for unnecessary risks that lead to injuries. When police chases lead to the death of any of these people, the families of the victims may be able to collect compensation for a wrongful death.
The Police Chase Suspect
Liability may lie with the suspect in some cases. Everyone who is on the road has a legal responsibility to follow all traffic laws, which are designed to keep everyone safer. When suspects are speeding, driving recklessly or doing other things that put other motorists and pedestrians at risk, they can be liable for injuries. An example of when a suspect may be liable instead of a police agency is when a suspect strikes a driver or a pedestrian during the chase. Also, if the suspect crashes the car and has a passenger, the passenger may be able to collect compensation from the suspect in some cases.
In some instances, the police officer or department may not be the only liable party. The municipalities in which law enforcement agencies operate may have partial liability. This may happen when the municipality failed to prepare or provide ample training for police agencies in how to handle pursuits in that area. Also, it may apply when there is a lack of safeguards in place that should be in place. For instance, if safeguards should have been in the area or were improperly maintained by the city and contributed to the accident, victims may be able to seek compensation from the municipality.
Why You Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Having a knowledgeable car accident attorney on your side is essential for several reasons. First, it is helpful and convenient since you likely have injuries or other problems to deal with after the accident. Trying to handle a claim against an insurance company, a police department or another entity is complex and requires a lot of time. Also, determining liability can be difficult in some cases. This is especially true when innocent people who have nothing to do with the pursuit are injured. For instance, a taxi driver and passenger may be injured if the police vehicle runs a red light, swerves and hits the taxi while chasing a suspect. A high-speed chase may go through a construction area and leave several people on the construction site injured. Who is liable in these cases? Only a car accident attorney who understands and is familiar with liability laws can help determine that.
Determining who is liable also requires investigating, which attorneys have the ability and resources to do efficiently. When a municipality or law enforcement agency may be liable, determining violation of procedures or laws can be complex. As stated earlier, there are many specific procedures that law enforcement agencies must follow, and the laws surrounding them can be complex. However, a personal injury attorney who has worked with police chase injury cases before knows the laws, how to investigate incidents and how to determine who is liable. Also, there may be multiple liable parties.
What To Do After a Police Chase Accident
If you were injured in a police chase, the first step is seeking medical attention immediately. It is important to have any injuries documented. Also, some injuries may not be immediately apparent. For instance, if your back hurts a little, you may think you are fine. As the weeks progress, the pain may worsen, and you may discover that you have a spinal injury. Documenting injury progression is important for a car accident claim. After you seek medical attention, the next step is contacting an attorney. The good news is that your attorney handles all the complex parts of the case. Your attorney will ask you questions during the consultation and may request paperwork. After that, your attorney works on investigating the case and handles all the legal work.
Many cases are settled without a trial. After the complaint is served and the defendant or defendants respond, there may be negotiations for a settlement. Since most parties know that trials and lengthy court battles are costly, they are more apt to reach a fair settlement amount if you have a good attorney. Your car accident lawyer knows how to fight for the most favorable financial outcome. If the liable party or parties cannot reach a fair settlement, the case goes to trial. Your attorney will do everything necessary to build a strong case in your favor if it comes to that.
Talk To a Police Chase Injury Lawyer
Are you ready to see if you are entitled to compensation for your injuries from a police chase accident in California? If so, JT Legal Group is here to help. Having a strong legal advocate during this difficult period in your life is important for your future and your peace of mind. We offer free consultations to learn more about your accident and see if you have a case. Please contact us to learn more about police pursuit claims.