Injured in a High-Speed Police Chase? Who is Liable?

High-Speed Police Chase and Liability

Movies like the eight consecutive Fast and the Furious films show that the public still loves to watch cinematic car chases. It’s no secret that Americans love their cop/suspect car chases, so much so that squealing tires accompany the climax of almost every crime film. But in reality, the chases are much more dangerous than they appear on film. According to USA Today, since 1979, high-speed police chases have been responsible for over 5,000 deaths. Of all those killed in police pursuits each year, a third were innocent bystanders.

Because police officers are tasked with keeping the peace, they seem untouchable when it comes to wrongful death or personal injury claims. However, in certain cases, the police officer is liable to compensate for your damages. Laws governing the actions of police officers vary by state; however, they all boil down to the same condition. When considering whether or not to initiate a pursuit, the office must ask:

  1. Has the driver of the vehicle committed a dangerous or violent felony?
  2. Is the driver is exhibiting outrageous and reckless driving behaviors, assumedly while under the influence?

These questions limit the officer to a police chases only if the public would be in danger if the chase didn’t occur. However, while it may seem pretty simple to prove negligence for an injury caused while a cop hightails it after a speeding vehicle; the case could actually get more complicated under civil law. Many times, when a defendant attempts to sue an officer, the court tends to reach the same conclusion: no matter what car hits you, the suspect is to blame because he is guilty of fleeing from the police. While it can certainly be argued that the officer should have stopped the chase if it was becoming dangerous to bystanders, many courts grant police officers immunity. This means that many families will not receive any damages from the police department.

On the other hand, many states will hold officers liable for accidents, but will only rule against the police department after a specialized analysis of the accident. Because of this, it’s recommended that you have an attorney on hand to evaluate all circumstances surrounding the pursuit.

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in a police pursuit, don’t hesitate to reach out to your nearest wrongful death or a personal injury attorney, like a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Salt Lake City, UT. If the police officer is found negligent in the way they initiated the chase, then they could be held liable for any financial, emotional or physical damages.


Thank you to the experts at Rasmussen & Miner for their insight into wrongful death and the law.