“In a decision issued [earlier this month], the Supreme Court ruled that police have a ‘duty of care,’ or a responsibility, to the people they chase down. The decision ruled in favor of the family of Wayne Torrie, 16, who died in 2010 when he crashed in Weber County after a high speed police chase. Torrie’s family sued the officer that chased him, as well as the Weber County Sheriff’s Office.” [Salt Lake Tribune]
Francesco Piserchia and another suspect were speeding away from the scene of a botched burglary when the police caught up with them. Piserchia’s suit claims he was trying to surrender when he was shot. [CBS New York]
Not even on foot, announced Wellford, S.C. mayor Sallie Peake: “As of this date, there are to be no more foot chases when a suspect runs. I do not want anyone chasing after any suspects whatsoever.” She was tired of all the insurance premiums and workers’ comp claims: “The officers are costing us more money on insurance than most citizens here in the city of Wellford are even earning.“ [Lowering the Bar, WSPA] She’s now revoked the policy. [AP/Charleston Post and Courier] Commentary: Officer.com.
The outrage is so common, we may have to create its own category. This one is in Newark, New Jersey: three car thieves running from police in a stolen SUV swerved into a group of pedestrians. Taxpayers are on the hook for a $3.6 million settlement, a substantial chunk of which will go to attorneys. [AP/Newsday] The Newark police department has “changed its chase policy” as a result; no mention in the press coverage that now criminals know that they are more likely to escape if they engage in a dangerous high-speed getaway, they’re more likely to engage in a high-speed getaway that will endanger the public. Earlier: Feb. 28; Feb. 27; Jan. 9; Nov. 27, 2005 and links therein.
On January 2, 2003, thieves stole a wallet at the Redfish restaurant and jumped into a getaway Dodge Intrepid driven by Lakesha Smith. Police started to pursue, and were called off the chase; one sergeant disregarded the order, and continued pursuit, though never faster than 30 mph. Five minutes later, the Intrepid ran a red light, hit an SUV, and then richocheted into a pedestrian, 25-year-old Qing Chang. Smith and another passenger have been charged with murder; a hearing is pending December 12.
But meanwhile, a civil jury has already determined that Smith and her passenger were only 25% responsible—which makes Chicago taxpayers entirely responsible for a $17.5 million award. Chicago has changed its chase procedures, though, of course, citizens killed by criminals who aren’t caught will have no cause of action against Chicago or the trial lawyers who forced Chicago into adopting a policy that makes lawsuit prevention more important than crime prevention. And it’s not clear what good changing the policy does if Chicago can still be held liable if a police officer disobeys orders to stop a chase. (Frank Main, “City slapped with $17.5 mil. judgment”, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 25; NBC5, “City To Appeal $17.5 Million Police Chase Crash Verdict”, Oct. 25; Ben Bradley, “Charges filed in wake of local chase”, ABC7 Chicago, Jan. 5, 2003). See also: Mar. 29, Mar. 15 and links therein.
In Connecticut, the town of Norwalk is paying $1.5 million in a settlement with pedestrians hit by a drunk driver fleeing police. Plaintiffs had sought millions. “[Julia] Johnson’s estate sought additional compensation for her death from cancer in August 2001. The estate argued that Johnson’s injuries caused her to miss a scheduled mammogram that would have caught the cancer in its early stages.” The settlement seems to be a “moral hazard” artifact of the insurance policy, which covered negligence, but not recklessness; the judge had ruled the city couldn’t be held liable for negligence, and the city worried that a jury sympathizing with the plaintiffs would’ve simply found the quantum of recklessness needed so they could award damages. This is a useful example about the inefficacy of immunity statutes that protect against “negligence” but not “gross negligence.” (Brian Lockhart, “City pays $1.5M to settle suit with hurt pedestrians”, Stamford Advocate, Mar. 14). Unrelatedly, Norwalk is also the defendant in a suit by Linda Gorman. Gorman took a job in the town clerk’s office , interacting with the general public, but complains that the town isn’t doing enough to deal with her sensitivity to fragrances and perfumes. (Brian Lockhart, “Norwalk City Hall employee files lawsuit over perfume”, Stamford Advocate, Mar. 1).
Thousands of miles away, a jury found Hawaii County 34% responsible for the death of Ellison Sweezey, who was killed when Richard Rosario, a 20-year-old crystal meth addict fleeing police, ran a red light and struck her car. Cost to taxpayers: $1.9 million. If there were joint and several liability, the county would also be on the hook for Rosario’s share. (Rod Thompson, “Jury awards $5.6M in death from car chase”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mar. 9; “$5.6M awarded to family of Big Island crash victim”, Honolulu Advertiser, Mar. 9). Hawaii police have undergone training to limit their willingness to chase suspects, with the expected counterproductive result (which we discussed Sep. 21, 2003) that criminals are now more likely to flee because their chances of escape have increased. (Rod Thompson, “Car theft suspect flees after slow-speed pursuit”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mar. 10). Other car-chase lawsuits: Jan. 3; Feb. 18, 2004 (& letter to the editor, Apr. 12).
A 21-year-old New Haven man who led Hamden police on a high-speed chase on his all-terrain vehicle before crashing into a utility pole last summer wants the town to pay his medical bills.
Britt Martin, of 75 George Street, claims that Officer Stephen DeGrand and four other unidentified officers were responsible for his injuries because they violated a Police Department policy to discontinue high-speed pursuits when the risk exceeds the need for immediate apprehension….
DeGrand said the suspect went through red lights and made illegal turns while driving well in excess of the speed limit during the chase.
(Fred Musante, Cops blamed for ATV crash, Hamden Journal, Dec. 29). More high-speed chase suits: Feb. 18 and Apr. 27, 2004; Sept. 21, 2003, etc.
On May 10, in Branford, Connecticut, Sergeant John Finkle attempts to pull over a BMW that is driving erratically; the driver, Thomas Bishop, later charged with DUI, pulls into a motel parking lot, and then speeds back out. Police say they ended the chase because of bad weather, but at some point before or after that Bishop smashed his car into a van at an intersection (allegedly at 75 mph), killing one and maiming another. Naturally, the lawsuit filed by the family of the victim is against the town, the chief of police, and Sgt. Finkle. (Marissa Yaremich, “Family will sue in fatal car chase”, New Haven Register, Sep. 20; Dave Phillips, “Police facing lawsuit from injured crash victim”, Branford Review, Sep. 20). Even if one accepts the questionable premise that it is the pursuer, rather than the pursued, who should be primarily responsible for such a crash, the fact that criminals will be more likely to engage in high-speed chases that endanger people if police have a policy of stopping pursuit seems not to enter into the equation of the lawsuit or the press coverage of the lawsuit.