Yes. You can sue anyone for anything, even people in patrol cars. The real question is, can you sue over a police-involved accident and win? This article is about police car accidents emanating from pit maneuvers to personal negligence by cops who think that they can skirt traffic regulations. In a dense, crime-ridden city like Los Angeles, Fentanyl traffic congestion and road rage are typical daily situations law enforcement deals with. As a result, sadly, car accidents are a common occurrence the local police department deals with as well.
While most catastrophic car accidents involve private individuals, what happens when a police officer is also the at-fault driver responsible for causing your accident involving serious injuries or death on the highway? Can you sue the police officer for causing or contributing to your motorcycle or automobile collision? This original article was written by a car accident attorney in Los Angeles with over a decade of experience fighting for victims of accidents with police or emergency vehicles.
Ehline Law Firm is a leading Los Angeles law office that helps victims suffering injuries from an accident involving a police cruiser or rogue cop. If you were in an accident involving a police cruiser pursuing a fleeing suspect, there are many complex legal issues. But we stand ready to hold law enforcement accountable for motor vehicle accidents 24/7.
Below, our top-rated personal injury attorneys will digest and explore the legal paths available to car accident victims facing personal injury claims in Los Angeles involving a government entity responsible for local law enforcement and police vehicles. Let’s begin!
What Happens If a Police Officer Causes a Car Accident?
In Los Angeles, CA, police cars often get involved in traffic incidents. Sometimes, an emergency vehicle or police car hits bystanders. If an armed police officer was driving recklessly and engaged in a car crash, it could cause an extensive litigation claim. First of all, a police car accident lawsuit can get complicated and won’t even get off the ground unless you make a timely government claim. But that still doesn’t mean you can win your armed police car crash if they had a valid reason to strike you or your vehicle. Often, the accident involves a police officer responding to an emergency along with other emergency responders.
Police Officers Could Be Immune?
Yes. As will be discussed, traffic law exemptions can protect the local government under the doctrine of qualified immunity. Suppose your insurance company blames the police, and you don’t have the right insurance, getting help for the injuries you sustained or for a wrongful death lawsuit. In that case, you must swiftly retain a competent car accident attorney before making a statement or trying to testify.
We have recovered millions in historic verdicts and settlements on behalf of Los Angeles car accident victims since 2005. Talking to us is free and part of our initial case review process. Ultimately, paying attention to your problem and preparing your case for future success is the key to winning. Let’s look at getting paid for the harm you suffered.
Federal and State Tort Liabilities Acts
Since ancient times, municipal police inherited their immunity from the king, queen, or “sovereign.” Americans, who historically, from the 1700s on, hated central control and mob-style communistic control, got fed up with government agencies breaking the law and getting away with it. So, in 1946, the federal government passed the Federal Torts Claims Act.
The Act waived certain sovereign immunity from suit in certain situations, creating a new form called “qualified immunity.” In other words, the government is still immune unless you can prove we aren’t. Essentially, the state created a framework that makes it almost impossible to sue unless you are a lawyer, but you CAN still try. The Act still allows the government to violate what for anyone else would be the law unless an exception applies.
California and Texas have developed similar tort claims acts with even more protections. These laws allow ordinary civilians to file damages claims against scofflaw cops and even politicians. This process is arduous and confusing in California and must generally be handled within six months of the accident. Our lawyers are experts at helping clients in police car accidents, and we can force the shifty city attorney to hear your side when you are unable to understand the responsibilities of bringing a claim.
Exceptions Sovereign Immunity
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Sovereign immunity constitutes an ancient and often vexing shield that the United States government has historically extended to its employees over the past century. This immunity safeguards government entities and their agencies from legal actions unless expressly authorized by the government itself. Several other states have permitted civilians to file legal claims against negligent law enforcement officers.
Still, government immunity can present a formidable obstacle when contemplating legal action against rogue or negligent law enforcement agencies. Nonetheless, numerous states have carved out exceptions that permit individuals to pursue public entities. For instance, California Government Code Section 835 facilitates lawsuits against public entities in cases involving hazardous conditions on public property. This could encompass situations where law enforcement’s actions contributed to a circumstance culminating in an accident.
Furthermore, should an officer’s conduct extend beyond their official responsibilities, they may find themselves devoid of the protections offered by government immunity. For instance, if an off-duty officer were to cause an accident while joyriding in a police vehicle, they might potentially be personally liable for the consequences. Neither the Act nor the C.A. Government Code created any new law enforcement duties. For example, as a general rule, police have no duty to protect individuals from crime or violence.
Hot Pursuit and Emergency Response Exception
We have all seen the LAPD or CHP on the news crashing into fleeing suspects. We have even seen firetrucks on YouTube crash through barriers and cars in an emergency response situation. Despite public outcry, emergency vehicles can violate traffic laws, and they regularly do. Courts recognize this as the “emergency exception.” This recognition can be overcome if the plaintiff can show the police officer failed to act reasonably in the given situation presented to an objectively reasonable officer.
If you are talking about the duties of a police officer pursuing a suspect while giving chase at high speeds, many factors will be judged in a claim against a patrol officer. For example, what if the crime prevention officer was in a high-speed chase near a school zone and ran down a bunch of kids? How would this differ from a high-speed chase on the freeway with no children present?
In many states, police will no longer pursue outlaw civilians through neighborhoods at all. They would rather not answer these questions in court or report their findings to the city council. These departments will take the easy path and not respond with a chase, let alone turn on their blue and red lights or sirens.
Comprehending the Fundamentals
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Before delving into the intricate legal aspects, please understand that law enforcement officers, like other motorists, get into car accidents on and off duty. Nevertheless, the dynamics surrounding accidents involving the police can exhibit uniqueness, attributable to factors like emergency response, pursuit of suspects, and enforcing adherence to traffic regulations.
To win, victims have to consider the following:
- Prove Negligence: Establishing negligence is a pivotal factor in government claims headed to personal injury litigation. To initiate a lawsuit against the police over a car accident, victims must substantiate that the police officer’s conduct was negligent, signifying a breach of their duty of care towards other road users.
- Government Immunity: Public entities, including law enforcement agencies, frequently benefit from specific immunities, shielding them from legal proceedings. Exceptions exist, especially when an officer’s actions surpass their official duties or involve reckless behavior while operating police cars.
- Official Duties: While police officers are on official duty, they can park in no-parking zones and temporarily block traffic. The main question was whether this was a frolic and detour from their official tasks, including responding to accidents, conducting official investigations, or issuing traffic citations.
- Emergency Response: Police officers frequently confront exigent circumstances that necessitate split-second decision-making while responding to emergencies in an emergency vehicle. Courts generally acknowledge some situations warrant deviations from traffic regulations to ensure public safety, even if it can mean an accident with a police cruiser.
- Hot Pursuit of Suspects: While pursuing a criminal suspect, a police officer may engage in high-speed driving while behind the wheel. Some accident claims arise from various maneuvers (pit maneuvers, etc.) that carry the potential for an accident with a police car. Courts objectively evaluate the reasonableness of such pursuits concerning the risks they pose to other road users.
- Traffic Control: Uniformed police officers in market vehicles are granted the legal authority to direct traffic and override traffic signals after or to prevent catastrophic accidents. Because of public safety and managing traffic flow, they can use their judgment and common sense discretion. Although some jurisdictions may grant certain exemptions to police officers in unmarked vehicles for traffic enforcement, these regulations and policies are subject to review by courts and juries.
Establishing Causation: Police departments won’t just roll over and cover your medical bills and lost wages. Proven negligence against the officers driving the vehicles involved is how you win. Hence, it remains essential to demonstrate that the injuries and the accident occurred due to the officer’s actions or inactions.
When Do I Need to Pay For an Accident Involving the Police?
If the accident is your fault, you will have to pay for your car and the police car’s damage and any injuries you caused. Getting at-fault parties working for government entities to cover auto accidents is another thing entirely. If you purchased collision insurance, many lawyers say to use that to cover the cost of vehicle repairs and a rental while you wait.
Suppose the police department accepts liability on behalf of the negligent police officer. In that case, that still does not mean they will cover everything, so sometimes it is better to let your insurance pay your property damages. However, this could open an investigation against you, and the police department may turn the tables and issue you an accident citation to try and escape liability.
Establishing Police Officer Negligence
To bring a winning negligence lawsuit against the police for causing a car accident, the plaintiff must produce evidence that can prove the following elements:
- Duty of Care: It is essential to demonstrate that the law enforcement officer was responsible for exercising care towards you and fellow road users. This responsibility encompasses adhering to traffic regulations. Did the officer drive in a manner that jeopardized the safety of others?
- Breach of Duty: The crucial step involves confirming that the officer failed in upholding this duty of care, either by engaging in hazardous maneuvers, acting recklessly, or neglecting established traffic protocols.
- Causation: A direct causal connection between the officer’s actions and the accident must be established. This entails proving that the accident would not have transpired without the officer’s negligence.
- Damages: To substantiate your case, it is imperative to present compelling evidence of the injuries sustained, property damage incurred, and any other losses endured as a direct consequence of the accident.
Establishing Your Legal Claim
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Initiating a lawsuit against law enforcement for a car accident should follow a comprehensive approach.
This will entail the presentation of compelling evidence, including as follows:
- Evidentiary Collection: While on the shoulder and safe from traffic, try and amass evidence, including accident reports, photographs, statements from witnesses, and photographic documentation of the accident scene and vehicles. (Yes, it is okay to film police so long as you don't interfere with their duties.) Try to identify any surveillance footage, including bodycam videos, that may exist as well.
- Injury Documentation: Despite your distress at the roadside, meticulously record details of your injuries, medical treatments received, and associated expenses. Including medical records and expert opinions can be pivotal in illustrating the full extent of your damages and overall stressful situation.
- Legal Counsel Consultation: Given the intricacies of pursuing legal action against law enforcement agencies, seeking guidance from a proficient personal injury attorney with expertise in cases involving police-related accidents is imperative.
- Scrutinize Police Conduct: Your chosen attorney will thoroughly examine the officer’s conduct leading up to the accident. This investigation may include obtaining records of the officer’s training, prior incidents, and any pertinent departmental policies.
- Expert Consultation: Depending on the particulars of your case, enlist the assistance of specialists in accident reconstruction or other relevant fields who can help establish duty, causation, and damages.
In summary, you can’t always sue over a police officer-caused accident. But with great legal help, you may be able to overcome qualified immunity for a win.
How Ehline’s Car Accident Lawyer Can Assist You
Initiating legal action against law enforcement to get compensated for a car accident is a demanding, meticulous process. Proving a case against the police means more than just establishing negligence. Government immunity and the specifics of police conduct must still be overcome. Despite the formidable legal protections afforded to law enforcement entities, car accident victims may be able to hold them accountable for negligence.
Suppose you think you have a legal claim. In that case, it’s essential to engage the services of a seasoned personal injury attorney with the expertise necessary to adeptly navigate the intricate legal framework and advocate for the compensation you deserve.
Ehline Law’s personal injury attorneys, based in Los Angeles, are committed to assisting individuals in understanding their legal rights to pursue justice. We offer all new clients a free, no-cost consultation to find out if they have a case. The goal is to make you comfortable and let you discuss and explore the avenues available for a complete financial recovery. Your journey toward recuperation commences with well-informed guidance and unwavering legal representation. Please do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a call today. Time is of the essence in all government claims.
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Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of the largest motorcycle accident settlements in U.S. History. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves in being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride, and a a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.
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