Henry County Police Chase Ends In Death Of Teenage Passenger

On April 2 of this year, we blogged about an important decision rendered by the Georgia Court of Appeals on March 28, 2013 indicating that innocent passengers unwittingly involved in high speed police pursuits can file a claim for damages sustained if they prove a reckless disregard of proper police procedure by the police officer initiating or continuing the pursuit. The newspaper accounts of the incident in Henry County do not provide much by way of detail but apparently police officers were pursuing the vehicle and there may have been a PIT maneuver of some kind as the vehicle was struck by a police officer (and or the victim’s vehicle struck the police officer’s vehicle itself), which caused the victim’s vehicle to run off the road. It overturned several times and a female passenger was killed. There is no information about what really precipitated the pursuit and/or whether the female passenger had any involvement in any illegal activity. However, the current State of Georgia law is that a passenger unwittingly caught up in a police pursuit has a claim against the pursuing governmental entity involved if the pursuing officer recklessly disregarded proper police procedure.
In Georgia, police officers do not have to worry about being sued if they follow proper procedure during police pursuits. The public wants the police to pursue violent offenders and those who are a danger to the public. However, if the pursuit involves a minor offense and the public is unnecessarily endangered by the pursuit, innocent passengers have a right to expect that the police will not recklessly disregard proper police procedure during the initiation or continuation of what is a dangerous pursuit for a minor offense.
In the case in Henry County, we do not know whether the passenger has a claim nor do we know if the officer recklessly disregarded proper police procedure. All of these cases are factually specific. However, if the police were pursuing for a non-violent offense and they disregarded proper police procedure in general in the initiation or continuation of the pursuit, provided the passenger was committing no illegal acts nor was aiding and abetting the flight from the officer, then in that event, the passenger would have a right to seek damages. Once again, regardless of the actual facts, this case proves yet again just how dangerous and deadly high speed pursuit cases can be.

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