Can I Sue The Police If I Am Injured Because Of A Chase?
A recent report in the Greenville News found that 113 people were killed during police pursuits in South Carolina between 2009 to 2018. According to their investigation, that placed South Carolina as third in the nation as it relates to car wreck fatalities that come during or because of police chases. According to The State Newspaper, the overwhelming majority of police chase cases start with a simple traffic violation or a non-violent crime. South Carolina has seen a rise in lawsuits related to police chases; we have seen far too many fatalities in which police chases resulted in injuries or death because of non-violent offenses. Furthermore, it appears there is no statewide standard that all law enforcement officers must follow when deciding whether or not to begin a police pursuit in South Carolina.
In 2018, the City of Liberty, which lies in Anderson County, South Carolina, settled a police chase lawsuit “pre-suit” (meaning before a lawsuit was filed) which resulted in an innocent third party being killed. In a different situation, the party fleeing the police filed a lawsuit and, shockingly, was able to negotiate a substantial settlement. All of this begs the question: “Can I sue the police if I am injured because of a chase?” The short answer is: “Yes.” That being said, there are a number of factors that will determine whether or not you have a viable claim against law enforcement for initiating a chase that results in personal injury. Here at Thomason and Pracht, our lawyers have handled numerous police chase cases in the past. The first inquiries we make in a police chase lawsuit are as follows:
First Party vs. Third Party
The first question to determine is whether the injured party is a “First Party” or “Third Party” to the chase. A “Third Party” participant is anyone who was not involved in the chase. Put in another way, these people are innocent bystanders or motorists who are completely removed from the police chase until they are injured by the ongoing police pursuit. A “First Party” participant is anyone that is actively fleeing the police. As a general rule, the attorneys at Thomason and Pracht do not accept First Party cases; however, there are rare exceptions when the conduct of law enforcement is truly outrageous or shock the conscious. Third Party cases meritorious lawsuits in most circumstances; however, general negligence principals will apply to any South Carolina police pursuit case. Third Party cases may also include individuals who are passengers in the vehicle of the fleeing suspect. This is particularly true if the passengers in the car are minors and took part in no illegal activity that initiated or caused the police pursuit.
South Carolina Tort Claims Act
Any police pursuit lawsuit that is brought in the State of South Carolina will include claims of negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness. These claims must be brought pursuant to the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act is a law that waives absolute immunity of governmental entities. It allows the government and its subdivisions to be sued just like any other private person; however, there are numerous exceptions to this waiver of immunity. Navigating the South Carolina Tort Claims Act is complicated and requires a lawyer with experience. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act will control what actions by the police expose the agency to liability. Furthermore, the South Carolina Tort Claims Act will limit any potential recovery. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act imposes a $300,000 dollars per claim cap on any damages against any one governmental entity. It is important to note that additional claims under federal law and claims that the police pursuit may have violated the injured parties’ constitutional rights may be available.
What Started the Police Pursuit?
What started the police pursuit? This will be the initial and possibly the most important factor in determining whether an injured party has a claim against the police for a pursuit case. If the pursuit was initiated due to a routine traffic stop or a non-violent property offense, then the police may have initiated the pursuit in violation of policy. In every chase, the police must weigh the risk posed to the public against the need to apprehend the fleeing party. This balancing of factors looks at not only what started the police pursuit, but also where the police pursuit began as well as the speeds reached during the pursuit. For example, it may be appropriate to initiate a pursuit when there is no traffic in the area. Conversely, it is extremely dangerous to initiate a chase through a town or city with numerous pedestrians and motorists.
At the end of the day, any police pursuit case will be decided by a Jury unless a settlement is reached. Jurors will be asked to apply negligence principals as well as review the policies and procedures of any police force accused of wrongdoing. Furthermore, jurors would likely examine the training and resources provided to on duty officers. A lack of training is a major factor that contributes to officers wrongly instituting a high-speed chase.
The attorneys at Thomason and Pracht have the experience and resources needed to investigate and prosecute a meritorious police chase lawsuit. If you, or a loved one, was injured as a result of a police chase in South Carolina please call Thomason and Pracht today for a free consultation.