A lawsuit was filed, on Wednesday, against the Blount County Sheriff’s Office. What started out as a routine stop over a damaged tail light turned into a high speed chase and an ensuing traffic accident that seriously injured two people. Were these injuries really necessary?
The article prompted me to do a little on-line research. I "Google’d" "high speed police chase traffic accidents-safety" and got 23,200 hits. The very first entry informed me that 334 people died, nationwide, in 2008, in traffic accidents that began as police chases. Approximately 30% of these were innocent victims (i.e., not the officers and not the subject of the chase). The problem is that when a police office engages in a high-speed chase he will sometimes disregard the safety of others on the road. He will also stubbornly refuse to abandon the chase even if the danger to others outweighs the crime committed by the suspect. Thus, most of the time, those injured or killed in a police chase accident are not the criminal being pursued. The injured and the dead are usually drivers or pedestrians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I certainly understand the need to apprehend criminals. But, it is also the duty of the officer to weigh public safety against the need to apprehend. If the public safety is put at risk, the chase must be abandoned; there should be uniform standards that apply in these situations. Perhaps federal legislation is necessary.
In the United States, police officers kill more people in high speed chases than they do by using their weapons. Thus, it is easy to conclude that police officers must use better judgment in their pursuit of criminals at high speeds. At a minimum, the officer should chase only if a serious crime has been committed and only if it does not endanger the public to continue pursuit. A minor traffic offense, vehicle defect, or misdemeanor offense should not result in a dangerous high-speed chase, especially through a busy thoroughfare. Serious injury or death is a likely consequence of such a chase. The appropriate test should be that is the danger to the public outweighs the need to capture the criminal, abandon the chase! A police chase that ends with the injury or death of an innocent driver or pedestrian usually allows the criminal to go free and imposes an injury or death sentence on the innocent. This is hardly the result that those charged with public safety should pursue.
Police departments throughout the country should establish sensible police chase policies and implement comprehensive training programs for all of their officers. Again, public safety should be first and foremost on the minds of all officers who decide to chase a fleeing criminal or traffic offender. Keep in mind that license tags, make and model of vehicles, all points bulletins, suspect descriptions, helicopter use and other modern technologies are available to track and apprehend a suspect; it is not always necessary to pursue to the danger of the innocent public.
Some jurisdictions have "no-chase" policies. It is important to note that these jurisdictions have not experienced an increase in crime despite policies that mandate that fleeing drivers not be pursued. These communities utilize the investigative and pursuit techniques outlined in the previous paragraph to apprehend criminals without further endangering the public by pursuing the driver at high speed.
People who are hurt or lose their lives as a result of a high-speed police chase are victims of negligence and, as such, can pursue the police department and the criminal for injuries suffered as the result of an accident caused by a high speed chase. An attorney who specializes in this type of litigation is recommended. If you have been seriously injured or have lost a loved one in a high speed chase or any other types of auto accident, you may qualify for auto accident lawsuit funding to assist you with your bills while the litigation winds its way through our civil justice system. This financial assistance is usually provided without any up front fees; repayment is almost always contingent upon the outcome of your case. Ask your attorney about the various companies that provide ethical and professional lawsuit funding for injury victims.
For more information on the dangers of police chases, I recommend the following safety sites:
Please be careful out there; keep your eyes and ears open for a fast moving vehicle followed by a black and white with its siren on.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.