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Who Is Liable For An Accident In A Police Car Chase?

March 23, 2020 Published in Car Accidents

While a police chase maybe exciting on TV, nobody wants to get caught in the middle of an ongoing chase. These incidents often occur at high speeds, and an accident could lead to serious injuries for drivers and passengers, or even bystanders, who had nothing to do with the incident. For anyone involved in an car accident that occurs during a police chase, it is important to understand who could be held liable for injury and property damage expenses.

Who Is Liable For An Accident In A Police Car Chase?

Police chases are unpredictable

There is nothing predictable about a police chase, other than the fact that they are all inherently dangerous. In many police car chases, both the drivers of the police cars and the vehicle being pursued may be traveling at high speeds. However, that is not the only danger. Suspects being pursued by the police often fail to stop at stop signs or red lights, regularly pull illegal traffic maneuvers, and sometimes even drive on sidewalks, through parking lots, or through lawns. All this behavior can lead to serious traffic accidents, causing injuries or even the wrongful death of those involved.

Can the police be held liable for these incidents?

When determining whether or not the police can be held liable for injuries caused by a car chase, we need to look at laws that exist which provide immunity for police officers and their employers from liability and personal injury lawsuits. When determining whether or not immunity applies, Illinois law will look at whether the officer “was engaged in the execution or enforcement of the law when the collision occurred.”

In general, the police are not responsible for injuries that occur to third parties if those injuries occur while they are performing their duties. However, police officers can be held liable in Illinois if the officer was acting in a willful or reckless manner and showing “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

Because of the potential liability issues regarding car chases, many police departments throughout the state of Illinois have issued guidelines regarding police pursuits. According to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, the responsibility of police agencies in this state “is to protect human life and property.” The manual goes on to say that when the risks to human life or property begin to outweigh the benefits of the capture of a suspect, officers should refrain from or disengage from pursuits.

So, who can be held liable?

That being said, there are still various parties who could be at fault in a police chase. This can include:

  • Police officers and police departments. If it can be shown that the police officers engaged in the pursuit should have disengaged because there was too much risk to other people involved, the officers or the department could be held liable for the car crash.
  • The fleeing suspect. Every motorist owes a duty of care to others on the roadway, and reckless driving behavior during a car chase will be seen as a breach of that duty. A suspect could be named in a lawsuit if they collided with another vehicle or otherwise caused an injury due to their driving behaviors.
  • Governmental employers. A governmental agency (state, county, city) where the police department responsible for the chase was located could be held liable if they did not have proper safeguards in place to prevent unreasonably reckless police pursuits from occurring. They could also be held liable for failing to adequately train police officers in pursuit procedures.