Can You Sue The Police If A Car Chase Kills A Suspect?
When a reckless driver causes a fatal traffic accident, they can be sued for wrongful death by the victim’s family. But what if the accident was the result of a police chase? In other words, if the police pursue a vehicle and the driver of that vehicle is killed in the course of that pursuit, can the police–or more precisely the local government that employs them–be held legally and financially responsible?
California Appeals Court: San Diego Police Did Not Comply with State Training Requirements for Immunity
The California Fourth District Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue in a published decision, Flores v. City of San Diego. This case arose from the events of March 26, 2017. A San Diego police officer observed a motorcycle running through a red light.
The officer decided to initiate a traffic stop of the motorist. The officer activated his emergency lights and siren. The motorcyclist, however, did not pull over but instead continued to travel in excess of the posted speed limit. Eventually, the motorcyclist entered I-805 traveling over 100 miles per hour.
A second officer joined the pursuit. Eventually, the motorcyclist swerved into a parking lot and lost control of their vehicle. The motorcyclist crashed into a retaining wall and died as a result of his injuries.
The motorcyclist’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of San Diego. The lawsuit alleged the police officers’ negligence in pursuing the victim caused his death. The city moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was immune from wrongful death claims under the facts of this case.
Normally, a state or city government is immune from lawsuit unless the legislature expressly waives such immunity. California law retains that immunity in cases involving accidents where vehicles are pursued by the police, provided the police department in question “adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicular pursuits.”
The trial court in this case found the city had met these requirements and on that basis dismissed the lawsuit. The Fourth District disagreed. It held that at this stage of the litigation, the city had not presented sufficient “undisputed evidence” that it had properly trained its officers to follow a legally compliant pursuit policy. While the appeals court did not rule in favor of the underlying wrongful death lawsuit, it did return the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
Essentially, the law requires a police department to provide its officers with at least one hour of training on a pursuit policy in the year prior to an accident that is the subject of a lawsuit. The Fourth District said that without proof of such training, the city is not entitled to immunity from the wrongful death lawsuit. Indeed, the evidence relied upon by the trial court indicated the San Diego Police Department provided less than one hour of training.
Speak with a California Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Wrongful death lawsuits often involve complicated questions of law. So if you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of someone else, it is important that you seek out timely advice from a qualified Monterey wrongful death lawyer. Contact the Allen Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team.