Police Chases

High speed police chase cases kill hundreds of people each year throughout this country and injure thousands. One-third (1/3) of those injured or killed are the fleeing suspects. The majority of the remaining two-thirds (2/3) of those injured or killed in such cases involve innocent third parties having nothing whatsoever to do with the police chase incident.

Finch McCranie LLP has represented numerous families who have been victimized by reckless chases undertaken by officers acting in disregard of the rights of the innocent motoring public. While these officers are typically chasing in order to capture the suspect, oftentimes the officers disregard the pursuit policies and procedures of their own police departments and continue the chase well after it becomes clear that the danger to innocent members of the motoring public substantially outweighs the need to apprehend the suspect.

For Example…

A typical example of the case that our firm sees is a situation where police are chasing a driver for a broken taillight or some other minor offense. If the police chase such an offender at high speeds, obviously, the need to apprehend the suspect is far less than is the danger presented to the public by the high-speed pursuit. More people in the United States are killed by high speed pursuits than they are by police firearms. And yet, we know from experience that these pursuits continue year after year. The challenge is to convince police departments to modify their pursuit policies to only chase offenders when it is safe to do so and typically to only chase them when forcible felonies are involved.

In a minor case such as a shoplifting incident, it makes little or no sense for the police to pursue such a suspect at high speeds in a metropolitan area where it is likely that serious injury or death will result if a collision occurs. Our firm has handled such cases where a fleeing shoplifter ran a red light and crashed into an innocent third-party motorist killing 3 or more people in the same vehicle. Experience has indicated that oftentimes the best procedure that police officers should employ during a high-speed pursuit is simply to terminate the pursuit and let the offender go particularly where the offender is being sought for a non-violent act which does not present a substantial danger to the community.

Reckless & Negligent Actions: High-Speed Pursuits

Law enforcement officers make mistakes just like any other human being. This means that they may commit negligent, wrongful, or reckless acts. If you watch the news, you certainly have seen video of high-speed pursuit pursuits. High-speed chases are recognized as one of the more dangerous police tactics in use, killing more innocent bystanders than police firearms.

Motor vehicle accidents that occur due to drivers fleeing police kill an average of one person per day in the United States, including more than 150 innocent bystanders per year. In addition to those killed as a result of high-speed pursuits, an average of two innocent bystanders per week are killed a result of police cruisers responding to calls for service.

Common injuries that occur include:

  • Permanent disability
  • Fractures
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Loss of limbs
  • Paralysis

These injuries can result in significant medical bills and lost wages, as well as physical and emotional pain and suffering.

Most people recognize and agree that police pursuit is necessary in some instances, particularly when violent crimes are involved. Proper policies, training, and implementation can reduce the number of unnecessary pursuits, thereby reducing the number of fatalities and injuries. There are numerous factors to consider when examining whether an officer’s decision was negligent.

In an urban environment like Atlanta, it is almost an everyday occurrence to witness a first responder emergency vehicle (typically with lights flashing & sirens blaring) speeding through city streets. The more prudent drivers of these emergency vehicles remain aware of their surroundings and slow down as they approach intersections to make sure they are clear so they may safely proceed with their emergency response. Regrettably, this does not always happen and collisions involving innocent third parties occur. In Georgia, there is a statutory remedy for innocent third parties injured in such incidents. The same statute, however, also provides legal protection for emergency vehicle operators.

Whether the emergency vehicle is a firetruck, a police vehicle, or an EMT ambulance, the law concerning tort liability for emergency vehicle operation is governed by O.C.G.A. § 40-6-6. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-6 is a critical statute in understanding tort liability for first responders and emergency vehicle operators. It reads in full:

(a) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Code section.

(b) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle may:

(1) Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this chapter;

(2) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;

(3) Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property; and

(4) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

(c) The exceptions granted by this Code section to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when such vehicle is making use of an audible signal and use of a flashing or revolving red light visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of 500 feet to the front of such vehicle, except that a vehicle belonging to a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency and operated as such shall be making use of an audible signal and a flashing or revolving blue light with the same visibility to the front of the vehicle.

(d)(1) The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.

(2) When a law enforcement officer in a law enforcement vehicle is pursuing a fleeing suspect in another vehicle and the fleeing suspect damages any property or injures or kills any person during the pursuit, the law enforcement officer’s pursuit shall not be the proximate cause or a contributing proximate cause of the damage, injury, or death caused by the fleeing suspect unless the law enforcement officer acted with reckless disregard for proper law enforcement procedures in the officer’s decision to initiate or continue the pursuit. Where such reckless disregard exists, the pursuit may be found to constitute a proximate cause of the damage, injury, or death caused by the fleeing suspect, but the existence of such reckless disregard shall not in and of itself establish causation.

(3) The provisions of this subsection shall apply only to issues of causation and duty and shall not affect the existence or absence of immunity which shall be determined as otherwise provided by law.

(4) Claims arising out of this subsection which are brought against local government entities, their officers, agents, servants, attorneys, and employees shall be subject to the procedures and limitations contained in Chapter 92 of Title 36.

(e) It shall be unlawful for any person to operate an authorized emergency vehicle with flashing lights other than as authorized by subsection (c) of this Code section.

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-6 (2002) (emphasis supplied)

As indicated by the language of the statute itself, while emergency vehicle operators may legally exceed the posted speed limit and are granted other exceptions under the law to disregard traffic control devices, there are limits to these privileges. As set forth in subsection (b)(3) of the statute, all first responders, even if their lights and sirens are displayed and audible, must not “endanger life or property” in the operation of their vehicles. Moreover, even though first responders are authorized to exceed posted speed limits and proceed past designated stop signs and red lights when responding to an “emergency,” they still must exercise “due regard for the safety of all persons.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-6(d)(1).

Contact Finch McCranie Today for a Free Consultation

Our Atlanta police pursuit lawyers regularly handle cases involving innocent third-parties who have been injured as a result of a high-speed police pursuit. Many personal injury lawyers in Atlanta and throughout the State of Georgia have referred Atlanta police chase cases to our firm due to our extensive experience handling these matters. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a police pursuit in Atlanta or anywhere in Georgia, contact Finch McCranie LLP today. You can contact us online or call us at (404) 658-9070. One of our Atlanta police pursuit lawyers will be happy to provide you with a free consultation.

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