Car chases happen relatively infrequently during police activity, despite the fact that they are often sensationalized on the TV and in movies. In reality, car chases are difficult and dangerous affairs, with the potential for injuries to the driver fleeing the police, the police themselves, and innocent bystanders. When police do not follow proper procedures during car chases, they can also find themselves liable for any third-party injuries that may result, as illustrated in a recent case.
In this Georgia car accident case, S.N. and W.N. were seriously injured after a driver fleeing the police in a car chase ran into their vehicle while illegally crossing an intersection. At the time of the accident, the driver was being chased by Monroe County police. S.N. and W.N. brought claims against the Monroe County police for their injuries, alleging that the reckless conduct of the officers proximately caused their injuries. Monroe County moved for summary judgment after discovery, and the lower court agreed, finding that S.N. and W.N. had failed to show any evidence that the Monroe County police acted with reckless disregard for their policies and procedures. S.N. and W.N. appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the evidence presented in the case clearly raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Monroe County acted recklessly. Specifically, on the night in question, Lamar County police attempted to pull over a driver after he was observed straddling two lanes. When the driver refused to pull over but instead accelerated, the Lamar County police began to chase him. As the driver crossed county lines, Monroe County police joined in the chase. At that time, Lamar County alerted Monroe County that the driver was being pursued only for failing to comply with a traffic stop and did not have an outstanding warrant or any other significant issues. As the chase continued, the police commented on their dash cameras and on audio recordings about the heavy traffic on the roads where they were pursuing the driver and the driver’s extremely erratic behavior and driving tactics, including weaving through lanes, crossing medians, and driving in emergency lanes. They expressed their concerns about the dangerousness of the situation but continued to pursue the driver.
Based on this evidence, S.N. and W.N. argued that the Monroe County police were clearly acting recklessly. Monroe County policies instructed police officers to carefully evaluate the circumstances of a police chase before joining, including the reasons for the chase and potential hazards to the public. When the potential dangers don’t warrant further pursuit, Monroe County police are instructed to end the pursuit. Despite these policies, S.N. and W.N. noted that Monroe County police pursued the driver who injured them through contested and highly trafficked roadways, and in a manner that placed pedestrians at risk, all for the possibility of stopping someone who had committed a minor traffic violation.
Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals agreed that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Monroe County police acted with reckless disregard for their policies and procedures by continuing to pursue the driver, which eventually led to his collision with the plaintiffs. The Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to have their claims against Monroe County heard by a jury in order to determine whether reckless behavior was exhibited. On this basis, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.
Summary judgment can only be granted when the facts of the case lead to only one logical conclusion, and no real factual disputes exist. Here, the question of whether the police acted within their boundaries in pursuing a driver in a car chase raised serious questions and issues of material fact and warranted further consideration of the plaintiff’s claims.
If you have been injured as a third party to a car chase, or if you are involved in any other lawsuit in which you believe the facts are highly disputed and should survive summary judgment, Atlanta car accident attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert can assist you in developing a case strategy and discovery plan that will help your claims make it to trial. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
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