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Police can be sued for chases that kill or injure: High Court

Police may now be held liable for damages if their negligent high-speed chases lead to the injury or death of innocent people. This is true due to a landmark judgment recently made by the Kentucky Supreme Court that overruled a 1952 decision granting blanket immunity to police against damages and injuries suffered by someone as a result of a police chase. Victims who suffered injury or the family members of victims that were killed during a police chase can sue the police officer involved or the department.

The judgment came while the court was hearing a 2014 case that involves the death of two people. Both victims were travelling on U.S. 25 in Lexington and were struck head on by a suspected heroin dealer being chased by the Scott County Deputy. The investigation report presented in court revealed the police officer pursued the suspected drug dealer into Fayette County on a rainy night, discovering in the middle of the chase that his sirens were not functioning although his lights on his cruiser were working fine. The law of the state requires police to use both sirens and light during a chase.

An initial lawsuit filed by the deceased’s family was dismissed by a trial court judge citing Supreme Court’s 1952 ruling. But after the Supreme Court write off that precedent, the high court held in a 6-1 ruling that a jury should get to decide if a Scott County deputy sheriff was at fault while pursuing the suspect who drove head-on into the victim’s car resulting his death. The Supreme Court held that juries, while determining cases, may ascertain if a police officer’s actions were a considerable factor in causing any damage or injury suffered by a third party.

Post new Supreme Court ruling, a wrongful death lawsuit has now been filed by the victim’s family against the sheriff’s office blaming the unauthorized chase for the fatal crash.

According to a study of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017, around 416 people were killed across the country in police chases. The number is a 22 percent increase from 2013. In Kentucky, 20 deaths occurred in 19 police pursuits from 2013 to 2017, according to a NHTSA data.