Report: High-Speed Police Pursuits Perilous to Innocents

On a recent early morning in the small North Carolina city of Welsh, a man raced onto U.S. 90, as law enforcement tailed him in hot pursuit. The chase reached speeds of up to 80 mph after sheriff’s deputies had tried to pull him over on I-10 and he fled.
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The 25-year-old suspect lost control of the vehicle as he turned onto a private road and was rear-ended by a city police unit. No injuries were reported. Officials later learned the car was stolen, and the young man had a laundry list of warrant.

Our communities give police a great deal of power and discretion in these situations because we don’t want those who break the law to get away with it. This time, it all worked out – the suspect was apprehended and no one was hurt.

But as a new report published in USA Today reveals, many times, the outcome isn’t always so rosy.

According to the report, nearly 5,100 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police chases since 1979. Further, tens of thousands of innocent people have been injured as police repeatedly pursued drivers in hazardous conditions and high speeds. Much of the time, officers were pursuing the driver with what started as a minor infraction, such as a traffic violation.

Roughly half of all those innocent people killed during police chases were bystanders and passengers. Most of those were killed in their own vehicle by the fleeing driver.

Another 6,300 fleeing suspects also died as a result of pursuits during that window of time.

The report indicates law enforcement agencies across the country engage in tends of thousands of chases every year. The vast majority of the time, these are initiated with traffic violations or misdemeanors. The driver panics. He recklessly speeds away.

Sometimes they have something to hide. But usually, it’s not as serious as one might assume for taking such drastic action. And when police initiate chases of minor offenders, they put the public at grave risk for little benefit.

A few of those in recent memory:

  • A 25-year-old man in New Jersey was killed in July by a driver who was running from police for blowing through a stop light.
  • A grandmother from Indiana was killed in June after police chased a driver suspected of shoplifting.
  • A federal worker was killed in March near Washington, D.C. by a driver police were pursuing for not using his headlights.

The law enforcement community has awakened to this danger and urged officers to abandon pursuits that endanger pedestrians, other motorists or even the officers themselves. In fact, nearly 140 police officers have been killed in high-speed chases, according to federal data.

Chases have been characterized by the Justice Department as the most dangerous of all “ordinary” activities police engage in. In fact, chases have killed nearly as many people as justified shootings.

Most police departments continue to allow officers to make split second judgments about whether to engage in a chase based on perceptions of driver danger. But the internal policies in place to prevent unnecessary danger to the public are often violated.

As far as pursuing civil action against a police agency following a chase-related injury or fatality, it can be difficult to prove liability by the department. Certainly, there could be a case against the suspect driver, though those individuals tend not to have great insurance, if they have it all. There may be a possibility to pursue uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage from one’s own insurer, depending on the situation.

It’s not that cases against the police, as a local government agency, are impossible. But they do require a higher burden of proof to establish negligence, and damages may be capped.

Considering approximately 7,400 people are injured every year in the U.S. by high-speed car chases, it’s important for those individuals to seek experienced car accident lawyer in Charlotte to fully understand their rights.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
High-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, July 30, 2015, By Thomas Frank, USA Today

More Blog Entries:
Tougher North Carolina DUI Laws Weighed by Legislators, July 31, 2015, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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