California Supreme Court Set to Decide on Police Liability in Pursuit Collisions

In a high-profile car accident in Gardena approximately three years ago, a police officer was in pursuit of pickup truck whose driver was suspected to have stolen phones at gunpoint. The high-stakes pursuit occurred near midnight in the industrial neighborhood, an area where there is relatively little traffic.

Even so, just a minute or so into the pursuit, the police officer rammed into the truck, a commonly used pursuit tactic that aims to force a car to turn sideways and stop. That said, this is a maneuver that is considered to be lethal when it is performed at speeds exceeding 35 miles per hour, and the facts of the case revealed that the officer was, in fact, driving 50 miles per hour when the move was made.

The suspect pursued ultimately passed away in the crash, and the suspect’s grieving mother sued the Gardena Police Department. This lawsuit was the catalyst for a lengthy legal battle that will now be taken before the California Supreme Court, which is effectively tasked with determining whether the lawsuit may go forward.

Do Police Officers Have Immunity in Pursuit Chases?

At issue in this interesting car accident case is whether police officers can enjoy legal immunity from accidents resulting from a pursuit chase. This is an important question to ask and answer, particularly from a personal injury standpoint.

This is because, as the Los Angeles Times notes in its coverage of the high-profile case, police pursuits "regularly lead to injuries and deaths." Indeed, the Times reports that approximately one out of every four pursuits end in a collision. And, in 2016 alone, it is believed that 762 injuries and 24 deaths resulted from police pursuits, according to data from the California Highway Patrol.

Over the years, lawmakers have had a difficult time with reconciling the need to give peace officers the ability to do their job while also create a safer climate for pursuit chases. This difficulty is only compounded when one realizes that the data suggests there are an average of 23 police chases every day in California.

Further, analysis conducted by the Times has shown that the issue of pursuit injuries is particularly troublesome in Los Angeles County, with LAPD pursuits injuring bystanders at more than double the rate of other California chase statistics.

These are difficult issues to be sure, as the Gardena Police Department has released a statement indicating their department is dedicated to "the proper training of its officers." That may well be the case, but the matter of police liability in pursuit chases will now be effectively decided by California’s highest court.

At The Ledger Law Firm, we will continue monitoring these legal developments in order to best represent injured accident victims who are legally entitled to compensation after an accident. If you or a loved one has been injured in a California accident, contact us online for a free case evaluation to discuss your legal claim with a personal injury lawyer at The Ledger Law Firm today.