A California man died after engaging the police in a long and dangerous pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles. During the police chase, the man drove recklessly and put thousands of lives in harm’s way. According to Newsweek, the man drove erratically, disobeyed traffic signals, exceeded 90 miles per hour, and even stuck his head out of the window while driving to yell at the police. What happens if you are an innocent bystander who is injured because of a high-speed police chase? Who can you hold responsible for your injuries?
Each year, dozens of bystanders are injured because of high-speed police chases in California. Police pursuits led by the Los Angeles Police Department appear to be the most dangerous for those who are not involved. According to the Los Angeles times, pursuits in the city “injure bystanders at more than twice the rate of police chases” in the rest of California. As the number of bystanders who are injured in police chases continues to rise, many want to know who they can look to for compensation. The injuries a bystander can sustain because of a California police chase are not insignificant nor inexpensive. Who can these victims look to when the medical bills are due? Who can these victims look to when their injuries force them to miss time at work?
In California, car accident victims can seek compensation from the party (or parties) who are responsible for causing the accident. When you are an innocent bystander and injured because of a high-speed chase you may not immediately know who those liable parties may be. Generally, responsibility for injuries caused by a high-speed police chase in California is contributed to the person police were chasing. While the police chase itself may have been the catalyst for the injury, the chase itself was only happening because a suspect was actively attempting to escape the police. Engaging in this dangerous and reckless behavior is the root cause of a high-speed chase.
Personal injury claims are generally based on negligence. Drivers must operate vehicles with reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm to others on the road. A driver who leads the police on a high-speed chase on freeways and through residential streets is probably not exercising the degree of care that is required. Since the driver was reportedly weaving between lanes and exceeding the speed limit at 90 miles per hour, a court would probably determine that he was negligent per se. This means that a victim would not have to prove that he had and breached a duty of care. Instead, the violation of the traffic law would be enough to establish that the driver could be determined to be negligent. Once it is established that a high-speed chase driver had and breached a duty, an injured bystander would have to prove that the injury they suffered was caused because of the chase.
What about the police? Could a bystander in California try to recover damages from a police department for injuries he or she sustained because of a high-speed chase? Generally, no. California police officers have limited governmental immunity, which means that they are protected from liability for the consequences of their police conduct. However, this is only a limited form of immunity. There are situations when police can be held responsible for injuries or harms that result because of their conduct. In California, police must “balance the risk of engaging in a pursuit” with potentially dangerous consequences before engaging in a high-speed pursuit. California cities also establish certain guidelines that limit when police may chase suspects. If a bystander can prove that a police officer did not adequately weigh the risks and benefits of a chase, or if the officer violated the guidelines for engaging a chase, he or she may be able to successfully pursue damages from the police department.
Generally, however, personal injury claims against the government and/or police are difficult to win. The best source of liability following a police chase injury is the suspect recklessly leading the pursuit. If the suspect dies, a victim can still seek damages through the probate of that suspect’s estate and/or a personal injury lawsuit. The process of recovering compensation when the negligent party has died becomes a bit more complicated. However, an experienced personal injury attorney at Ascent Law LLC will understand how to successfully follow a path to recovery. Many times, the damages an injured bystander seeks to recover will dictate which path(s) are appropriate.
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