Being involved in a high-speed police chase is scary, even as an innocent bystander. However, what if a police car (or the driver being chased) damages your vehicle? Legal issues that involve government entities, such as a police department, can be complicated, but there are certainly ways to recover damages. Here is a look at the legal issues associated with a police chase:
Your Role in the Chase
First of all, liability your ability to sue will depend on your role in the chase. There are different types of car chase scenarios, including:
You are chasing someone: If you are chasing someone on the road, you could be liable for reckless driving or other criminal charges. If you are driving illegally (i.e. speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, driving on the curb, etc.) while chasing someone else and it leads to an accident, you could be on the hook for any injuries or property damage caused because the accident would not have occurred if not for your conduct.
The police are chasing you: If the police are chasing you, they are most likely not liable for any damage to your car in the eyes of the law. Police officers have very broad powers to carry out their peacekeeping duties, and a judge is more likely to side with law enforcement than the person they are chasing. However, these rules are not black-and-white, and if the police officer was driving in a needlessly reckless or unsafe way, there could be some possibility for legal recourse. However, keep in mind that any criminal charges files as a result of the chase or your arrest could have a serious impact on these issues.
The police are chasing someone else: If the police are chasing someone else and you are caught in the (figurative) crossfire, you could have grounds for legal recourse. However, this depends on the circumstances, the extent of the damage, and the rules about lawsuits against government entities.
Claims Against Government Agencies
Government agencies often have “sovereign immunity,” which protects the agency and its employees from personal injury lawsuits—even if they could be held liable as a private citizen. However, automobile accidents are some of the more common exceptions to governmental immunity. Typically, a private citizen who is injured by a police car, a fire truck, an ambulance, or another emergency vehicle has the right to compensation for his or her injuries. While these emergency vehicles get a lot of leeway to blow through intersections, drive faster than the speed limit, and break other “rules of the road,” emergency vehicle drivers still have a duty to drive safely and responsibly.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the timeline for a claim against the government is different than it would be for a claim against another California resident. Claims against the government (such as a police department) must be filed within 6 months after the injury occurred (rather than the typical deadline of one year).