Are Police Responsible If Someone Is Killed Because They Initiated a High-Speed Chase?

 wrongful death lawyer police chase

High-speed police chases and the deaths they cause are an ever growing problem in the U.S. One study found that, from 2014 to 2018, 1,699 police chase fatal crashes occurred nationwide, of which 56% of the victims were someone other than the alleged criminal being pursued.

Specifically, the fatality statistics break down as follows:

  • 882 fleeing drivers died
  • 765 bystanders, i.e., occupants of other vehicles, died
  • 337 fleeing vehicle passengers died
  • 75 nonmotorists died, including 67 pedestrians
  • 21 police officers died

States With the Highest and Lowest Number of Police Chase Deaths

The same study found that the number of deaths from high-speed police chases increased every year but one as follows:

  • 2014 – 386 deaths
  • 2015 – 382 deaths
  • 2016 – 394 deaths
  • 2017 – 416 deaths
  • 2018 – 427 deaths

In terms of where you’re most likely to die in a crash caused by a high-speed police chase, the top five states were:

  • Texas – 268 deaths
  • California – 182 deaths
  • Georgia – 129 deaths
  • Michigan – 87 deaths
  • Illinois – 80 deaths

On the other hand, your risk or dying in such a crash is lowest in the following states and jurisdictions:

  • Vermont – 3 deaths
  • Rhode Island – 3 deaths
  • Alaska – 3 deaths
  • District of Columbia – 4 deaths
  • Hawaii – 5 deaths
  • Maine – 5 deaths

Police Responsibility

If your loved one died because of a high-speed police chase crash, whether or not you can bring a wrongful death action against the police department that initiated the chase is strictly a matter of state law. Unfortunately, many states still prohibit this and other types of suits against police departments when they’re performing their duties. Your best strategy is to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced local wrongful death attorney who can advise you of your state’s laws.

Police Department Policies

As you might expect, police departments are “all over the place” with regard to when and under what circumstances they can initiate a car chase to pursue a fleeing suspect. In other words, there’s no standard policy across all the many local police departments. In addition, many police officers routinely continue the chase across city, county or other jurisdictional boundaries on the “hot pursuit” theory, which gives officers the right to pursue a suspect into one or more neighboring jurisdictions where, under normal circumstances, they have no legal authority to be or to arrest someone.

Bottom line, you always have the right to sue the driver and/or owner of the pursued vehicle for the wrongful death of your loved one. Whether you can sue the police, however, remains an iffy proposition. Contact a wrongful death lawyer such as Unidos Legales should you wish to sue a police officer.