Liability in Accidents Involving Police Vehicles

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that about 250,000 high speed police chases occur nationally every year. About 6,000-8,000 result in a collision, killing around 500 people and injuring about 5,000. In South Florida, it is quite common to see police vehicles, usually with sirens screaming and red lights flashing, weave in and out of traffic, exercising privileges that are denied to members of the general public who are operating motor vehicles. Frequently such vehicles exceed general speed limits, go through red lights, or engage in other conduct which appears to violate general traffic regulations in their course down the highway. Unfortunately, all too frequently collisions occur between such police vehicles and other vehicles, pedestrians, or property, resulting in personal injuries, death, or property damage. The majority of the accidents involve collisions between police vehicles and other vehicles or pedestrians at street intersections. This blog post discusses the question of liability arising from accidents involving police vehicles, where the fact that a police vehicle was involved has been treated as of special significance.

In general, the privilege of an operator of a police vehicle to ignore state traffic regulations depends upon a statute or an ordinance, which frequently requires that before the exemption is applicable the vehicle must be on an emergency mission or must be operated on official business. In a number of states, by law, officers under certain conditions enjoy special privileges on the highways. Under some of these regulatory provisions, police vehicles, under certain circumstances, are given the right of way over other vehicles provided certain requirements are met. Under other regulatory provisions, police vehicles, instead of or in addition to being granted the right of way, are exempt, under certain conditions, from obeying certain traffic regulations, such as stopping at red lights or driving within a certain fixed maximum speed. In other states, police officers enjoy special privileges on the highways only in emergency situations.

Over the years, many courts have had to deal with how to ascertain whether an “emergency” for purposes of meeting the exemption requirements was met. Generally, the test for determining whether a publicly owned police vehicle is at a given time an authorized emergency vehicle is not whether an emergency in fact exists at the time. Instead, a court will look at whether the subject vehicle is then being used in responding to an emergency call, and whether the vehicle is being so used depends upon the nature of the call that is received, and the situation then presented to the mind of the officer. The answer to such questions usually depends upon the particular facts involved and is decided on a case by case basis. In some cases, police officers are exempt from some traffic regulations during an emergency but not exempt from others. The majority of the courts have held that where the police vehicle is not exempted from a particular traffic regulation, the operator of the vehicle must obey that particular regulation, although there is authority to the contrary. Overall, laws that provide exemptions to officers from abiding certain traffic regulations generally still require that the officer exercise at least some degree of care in exercising the privileges conferred, although the exact degree of care varies depending upon the enactment and the court’s construction of it. In some cases, however, exemptions do not specify that care is required, or it has not been indicated by the courts that the enactment contained provisions relating to care, but the courts have generally held that the operator must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.

Who Can Be Held Responsible After a Crash with a Police Vehicle?

There are many different ways to determine liability for a Florida crash. In most cases, the party at fault is the one who had a duty of care to the person injured and who’s found to be guilty of violating that duty. There are generally two ways to obtain compensation for your damages against law enforcement after an accident with a police vehicle. The first method involves filing a negligence suit. The first is, like any suit, simple negligence. The problem is the same suing the State of Florida is not the same as making a claim against a person or a private corporation. Traditionally, governments have prevented people from suing them, under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a concept that developed hundreds of years ago in England. Essentially, sovereign immunity kept people from making claims against the king, his representatives, or the government. While this concept transferred over to the U.S., many states in America allow people to sue them for damages under certain circumstances. In Florida, a person who is injured by the government or a government employee may file an injury claim if the injury was caused by the negligence or wrongful act or omission of the government, the loss can be compensated with money damages, and the circumstances are such that the negligent party would have been liable as a private party. However, the statute lists certain limitations on an injured parties’ ability to sue. The second option for injured victims is to sue under what is referred to as “Section 1983,” a federal statute that provides a private right of action to citizens whose civil rights are violated by government agencies. However, liability under that statute requires more than simple negligence and you will have to file in federal court.

Contact us Today!

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident involving a police vehicle, you may have a legal right to recover significant compensation for your injuries. The Law Offices of Suarez & Montero Car Accident Lawyers represents accident victims injured in various types of accidents. Our skillful attorneys are genuinely committed to our clients. We will fight to make sure that you get the maximum amount of compensation owed to you. Let us help you get the medical care you need and fight to make sure you are compensated for

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Jaime Suarez

An experienced legal personal injury defense professional in Miami, who is dedicated to helping accident victims with personal injury cases involving automobile accidents, brain and spinal cord injuries, slip and fall accidents, prescription errors, wrongful death, and accidents at work.