A motorist who was trying to evade pursuing police officers apparently lost control of his car at speeds approaching 170mph. Four people between age 16 and age 22 died in the inferno.
A deputy operating a speed trap initially clocked a Dodge Challenger at 102mph. As the deputy pursued, the suspect sped away. That deputy lost sight of the vehicle, as did another deputy further ahead. When the driver tried to exit Interstate 75, the Charger barreled into a tree line and burst into flames. Two people were able to get out and the other four did not make it.
“It’s sad when young people lose their lives,” especially if the incident involves “poor choices,” opined Monroe County Sheriff Brad Freeman.
High-Speed Police Chase Injuries
The Charger driver certainly made a poor choice. Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies arguably made poor choices as well. Four people are dead over an unissued speeding ticket. Investigators claimed they found illegal weapons and credit cards in the car. Somehow, these items miraculously survived the fire. Even if they were there, deputies certainly did not know about these items when the chase began.
Unjustified police shootings almost always garner national attention in the headlines. But reckless high-speed police chases kill many more people than shootings. Generally, the victims are bystanders.
Legally, the same general legal principles apply in shootings and chases. The controversial official immunity doctrine protects officers in both situations. However, this protection is not unlimited. Generally, the official immunity doctrine only applies in shootings if the law enforcement contact was legal and the amount of force used was proportional to the threat. Somewhat similarly, a number of factors determine if officers are liable for reckless chase injuries. These factors include:
- Severity of the alleged offense,
- Temporary or permanent anti-chase policy, if any,
- Time of day,
- Likelihood of bystander injury, and
- Available alternatives to a high-speed chase.
Anti-chase policies and chase alternatives are usually the two most significant factors. The policy could be written in an employee manual, issued by a supervisor at a previous time, or a dispatcher’s “do not pursue” command. Alternatives are usually available, such as advanced GPS tracking. But many police officers are reluctant to use these alternatives. They would rather get the bad guy there and then.
A Marietta personal injury lawyer must usually deal with some additional procedural hurdles in these matters, such as the notice of claim requirement.
Generally, injured passengers have the same legal and financial rights as injured drivers. However, there are some additional emotional and legal issues to deal with in these cases.
Generally, injured passengers have close relationships with at-fault drivers. Understandably, these passengers often hesitate to pursue legal claims against these tortfeasors (negligent parties). However, a negligence claim does not “blame” anyone for the accident. Furthermore, individuals normally are not financially responsible for damages in these situations. Their insurance companies usually make such payments.
These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Legally, the seat belt defense sometimes applies in these situations. That is especially true for back seat passengers, because the compliance rate is much lower. However, a new Georgia law restricts the seat belt mandate to front seat occupants only. Additionally, seat belt non-use is generally inadmissible on critical issues like causation and damages.