Police officers will frequently be placed into situations where they will be required to make split-second decisions when investigating alleged criminal activity. If they spot a motorist engaging in potentially dangerous behavior, they may decide to make a traffic stop. If the vehicle refuses to pull over, the officer may become involved in a high-speed chase, or pursuit.
When one of these pursuits occurs, the other vehicles on the roadway will often be placed at risk due to the driving behaviors of the suspects being pursued, as well as the officers involved. Motorists may only have a very brief moment to avoid being involved in a motor vehicle accident. When accidents do occur they often result in serious injuries because of the speeds involved in the crash.
Rules related to pursuits are not limited to the vehicles directly engaged in the pursuit, but also to vehicles traveling to aid in the pursuit. While policeman, like other emergency responders, are permitted to exceed posted speed limits, they may only do so if it can be done without endangering life or property. In other words, they are not permitted to travel at unsafe speeds.
In many cases, those injured will pursue claims for compensation against the municipalities that hired the officers involved in the chase. Pennsylvania law regarding these types of claims has changed a great deal over the years. Initially, municipalities invoked the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act to claim immunity against claims from innocent bystanders injured in high speed chases.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled its prior decisions and then permitted these types of claims to move forward. It stated that the jury should be allowed to determine if the officer’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injuries.
This means that all of the officer’s actions in the chase must be reviewed. This includes evaluating the decision to engage in a high-speed chase, as well as the continuing of the chase in residential or high-traffic areas. These actions will often need to be analyzed in connection with the law enforcement agency’s policies regarding high-speed chases. There is also the very significant question of whether the officer was negligent in the operation of his vehicle by traveling at an unsafe speed or not being attentive to other cars on the road.
If the officer was negligent in his decision to engage in or continue the pursuit, or in the operation of his vehicle, it is possible that the municipality could be found liable. It is also possible that the municipality itself is at fault for having a deficient pursuit policy which fails to adequately account for public safety, or for inadequate training of the officer involved in the accident. However, these are extremely difficult cases, and many victims find themselves unable to recover damages against the municipalities and officers involved in the crash.
If you have been injured in a high-speed chase, it is important that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to review your claims, and determine which course of action will be best for your situation. You may have federal or state claims, and you need to understand the options that are available to you. These cases will frequently end up in the courtroom, and you need to work with someone that knows how to present your side of the story.