When you’ve been injured in an accident with a police car, a different set of rules applies, but the police officer or police department can still be held liable for your accident and injuries. In most cases, a determination of liability would likely involve the law of negligence. Usually, a traffic law violation is involved. Those might involve any of the following:
- Driving too fast for traffic or weather conditions.
- Failure to obey a traffic control device or stop sign.
- Driving in the wrong lane of traffic.
- Failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
- Failure to yield the right-of-way when turning left
Governmental Tort Immunity
Local, state and federal governmental agencies are protected by a general rule that provides them with immunity from acts committed by their agents or employees. This rule came over on the Mayflower under the law that the king could do no wrong. Over the years, Pennsylvania’s legislature has carved out certain exceptions to such immunity. The motor vehicle exception is one of those exceptions.
The Motor Vehicle Exception
This exception abolished governmental tort immunity in the context of motor vehicle accidents that are caused by government employees who are acting in the course of their employment when their carelessness and negligence causes injuries as a result of the movement and operation of a government controlled vehicle. It also includes parts of the vehicle. For example, if a driver enters an intersection on a green light and a police officer on routine patrol enters that same intersection against a red light and causes a collision, the officer and his employer can be held liable for the other driver’s injuries and damages. If that same accident occurred while the police officer was responding to a call with his emergency lights and siren activated, the standard of care would be negligence under emergency circumstances. In the event of gross negligence or recklessness, no immunity would apply. Courts have historically interpreted movement and operation strictly. For example, if a squad car rolls without anybody in the driver’s seat, it isn’t being operated.
Vehicle pursuits by police are dangerous for the pursuing officer, the offender and the general public. Police departments in Pennsylvania are required to implement written procedures for when a police officer should start, continue and end a vehicle chase. The police must cover the decision-making factors in issues like commencing a pursuit, the potential harm or danger should the fleeing driver escape, the seriousness of the offense at issue and the potential danger to the offender, the pursuing officer and the general public. Such a written policy can operate as a standard of care for purposes of evaluating a police officer’s pursuit decisions. Police officers in the pursuit are required to use their emergency lights and sirens at all times.
42 USC Section 1983
Actions pursuant to this statute allow victims of wrongful police conduct to file lawsuits against a governmental entity when its agent or employee acts “in color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia.” In color of law requires at least some connection of a wrongdoer with a state or territory when depriving the victim of his or her civil rights. Section 1983 cases often turn on allegations of excessive force by law enforcement.
Wrongful injury cases against police officers are viable cases when the appropriate facts present themselves. They must be approached carefully. If you were injured in a crash with a law enforcement vehicle, contact our offices to arrange for a free consultation and case review. You can tell us what happened, and we can answer your questions. After that, we can advise you of your full range of legal options.
Innocent Bystander v. Suspect
If the injured person is the suspect, then the law prevents them from collecting damages when they were in flight fleeing police or resisting arrest. This makes it very difficult for the suspect to prevail against the police for injuries in a chase.
When the injured is an innocent bystander, then the police owe them a greater duty of care, and an injured bystander needs only to prove that the officer was negligent in his or her actions. However, negligence in a police chase is difficult to prove because the injured person must show that the decisions made in the heat of the moment and often in a split second were outside what a reasonable police officer would have done under the same or similar circumstances.
This is tough to do because the police also have a duty to protect the public, to operate in their normal course of police business, and do so under the stress and fast-paced environment of the circumstances.
Contact a Philadelphia Auto Accident Lawyer.
After any accident involving a serious injury, contact a highly rated Philadelphia Auto Accident Lawyer such as Edith Pearce. Unlike the huge firms with dozens of attorneys and many different attorneys handling different aspects of your case, Edith Pearce is personally involved in every case that we handle. She genuinely cares about her clients and you will not be treated like just another case or file.