High-speed car chases may appear exciting on TV, but you would not want to be one of the innocent civilians in Kentucky who have been harmed while criminal suspects flee from the authorities. Although the public’s attention might be focused on the suspects attempting to evade arrest, blameless people have been hurt during these dangerous vehicular pursuits. Judicial notice, however, has been taken. As reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1952 decision granting law enforcement officials immunity for causing injuries or deaths while chasing criminals. At Barber Law, we understand how this 2019 ruling may help families and victims recover from a loss due to vehicular negligence when law enforcement is engaged in pursuit of criminal suspects.
To justify its decision, Kentucky’s highest court noted that 355 people were killed each year on average between 1996 and 2015. What led the court to decide on this important case was the need to overcome its previous 1952 ruling which hearkened back to the days when horse-and-wagon transport was in use. During that era, if authorities were chasing a criminal suspect by horse, they were given full immunity from any harm or damage they caused.
In 2014, a 62-year-old Scott County resident died when a suspected drug dealer rammed head-on into his car while law enforcement officials pursued him. Months after the collision, a 38-year-old female who was a passenger in the victim’s car also died from her injuries. These two victims became another addition to the annual number of deaths caused by high-speed chase negligence, but without the ability to hold anyone liable, there would not be much of a chance of these statistics improving.
The male victim’s surviving adult children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two Scott County officials who pursued the suspect before he crashed into their father’s vehicle. The lower court tossed the case based on the 1952 Kentucky Supreme Court decision of Chambers v. Ideal Pure Milk Co. The plaintiffs were persistent, however, and argued their case up to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The defendants testified to their negligence in their method of pursuit. Factors that contributed to the suspect slamming his vehicle into the victim’s car included a restless canine, wet roads and a broken siren. After deliberations, the judges ruled 6-to-1 that law enforcement officials who negligently cause injuries and death may now face legal action.
Persons or families with loved ones harmed or killed by law enforcement while in the line of duty may bring an action in a Kentucky court. Plaintiffs may request a jury trial to determine whether an official’s negligence led to a victim’s injuries or death. Recovery might include damages for the loss of income, medical bills and pain and suffering. Our website’s section on personal injury provides more information about recovering from a loved one’s wrongful death or disability.