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Police Officer Liability for High Speed Chase Collision

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The internet is full of videos of police officers involved in high speed chases of criminals. Unfortunately, many of them lead to serious accidents that cause law-abiding, innocent citizens serious injuries. If a police chase causes a collision in this type of setting, the standard required to recover damages is exceedingly high. In fact, in every appellate case that has considered whether a police officer had acted grossly negligent in pursuit of a criminal, our courts have said no. This is not to say it is an impossible standard to meet but, unless the officer’s conduct was particularly reckless, it is very difficult.

This scenario was recently discussed in the North Carolina Court of Appeals case Estate of Greene v. City of Greenville. There, a police officer riding a bicycle smelled marijuana in a passing vehicle. He was given permission to take a police cruiser to follow this individual. Hoping to avoid detection by the suspected criminal, he never turned on his police sirens or lights. When the car traveling directly in front of the officer (not the criminal) attempted to turn right without using his turn signal, the officer was forced to hit his brakes and turn left. He spun out of control, crossed the center-line, and caused a violent collision with the vehicle of a Mr. Billy Ray Greene. Both the officer and Mr. Greene were tragically killed.

The statute at issue in Greene was N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-145, which provides essentially that a posted speed limit does not apply to police vehicles in the chase or apprehension of violators of the law. It further provides that “[t]his exemption shall not, however, protect the driver of any such vehicle from the consequence of a reckless disregard of the safety of others.” Essentially, for a police officer, his employer, or their insurance company to be responsible for damages caused in a high speed chase, the injured party must prove more than ordinary negligence, he or she must prove “gross negligence.”

As stated above, proving gross negligence is exceedingly difficult when police officers are involved. In all cases considered by our appellate courts, they have said the conduct did not rise to gross negligence. In their analysis, the courts purport to examine the following factors: “(1) the reason for the pursuit, (2) the probability of injury to the public due to the officer’s decision to begin and maintain pursuit, and (3) the officer’s conduct during the pursuit.”

These factors are examined in a light very favorably to police officers. In Greene for example, even though the police officer initiated a chase for a simple marijuana possession, this was a factor that the court construed in his favor.

If you have been involved in a serious automobile accident involving a police officer on a high speed chase, it is important that you retain an attorney as soon as possible. Proving liability in your case is far more complicated than the vast majority of automobile accident cases. The Raleigh automobile accident law firm of Maginnis Law offers free consultations. We also handle all accident injury cases on a contingency basis, meaning you pay no attorneys’ fees unless we make a recovery on your behalf.

Maginnis Howard regularly represents clients throughout North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Greensboro, Sanford, Greenville, and Fayetteville. To speak with attorney Shawn Howard, call the firm at 919.480.8526 or send an email inquiry using our contact page.