Morrin Law Office
Kentucky Car Accidents Involving Law Enforcement
In a society where the trust in law enforcement is paramount, a car accident involving the police can be a distressing revelation. While these incidents are relatively rare, the consequences can be severe. Victims of police-related collisions may experience injuries, wrongful death, and ultimately raise questions about accountability. When injuries stem from the negligence or recklessness of a police officer, it becomes crucial to understand that victims may have grounds for a personal injury claim.
Unlike standard passenger car accidents, pursuing a personal injury claim against a law enforcement officer or government entity is a nuanced process. This is because of the level of immunity granted typically granted to government bodies. However due to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), U.S. citizens are eligible to bring claims against the federal government for the potential wrongdoings they may have caused.
The complexities surrounding these cases often demand a heightened level of legal expertise. Understanding the intricacies of the law and the unique challenges associated with holding a police officer accountable requires the guidance of a highly experienced personal injury attorney.
Contact Morrin Law
The personal injury attorneys with Morrin Law can help you get the medical care your injuries need, along with getting you on track to win compensation to cover the resulting damages. If you or someone you love was recently injured in a car accident involving a police officer in Kentucky, contact our office at (859) 358-0300 to receive a free consultation regarding your case.
Car Accidents Involving the Police
When a car accident occurs, one of the first things you should do is contact the police. But what if a police officer was the direct cause of the collision? While it may seem rare, car accidents involving law enforcement officers can occur for a variety of reasons. The following lists example scenarios in which a police officer may be involved in a motor vehicle collision:
- High-speed pursuits: In scenarios where they are attempting to apprehend a suspect, law enforcement may engage in high-speed chases. Unfortunately, these pursuits can lead to accidents involving other drivers on the road.
- Reckless driving: Police officers who engage in reckless or negligent driving such as speeding or aggressive maneuvering can lead to collisions involving other vehicles.
- Distracted driving: A law enforcement officer who is distracted for any reason such as using a mobile device, interacting with the technology in their police cars, or attending other duties while operating their vehicles could all result in a collision.
- Failure to obey traffic laws: Police officers are not exempt from traffic laws in certain scenarios. If a law enforcement officer simply runs a stop sign or disregards a traffic law that causes a collision, they may be held liable.
- Vehicle malfunctions: If the officer’s vehicle has malfunctions or mechanical failures while driving, it could cause a collision.
- Intoxication or impairment: While rare, it is possible for a police officer who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to cause a collision that leads to injury or death.
- Inattentiveness to surroundings: A police officer who loses focus on the road or their surroundings can cause a motor vehicle collision.
Were you recently injured in an accident caused by a police officer? Contact the attorneys with Morrin Law Firm to determine if you have a personal injury case.
Law Enforcement Data and Polices on Pursuits
While most law enforcement agencies will have written policies regarding high-speed chases, the discretion ultimately falls on the officer in the moment to make the snap decision of whether to issue a pursuit. Pursuing offenders for minor crimes such as running a stop sign or red light does not seem necessary when compared to the risk a pursuit causes to others not involved in the criminal activity.
The model policy on pursuits provided by the International Association of Chiefs of Police states the following: “Pursuit is authorized only if the officer has a reasonable belief that the suspect, if allowed to flee, would present a danger to human life or cause serious injury. In general, pursuits for minor violations are discouraged.”
Despite the policies in place, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) provided data from 1979 to 2017 that indicated 13,100 individuals who were killed in police pursuits. The number includes suspects, innocent bystanders, and even police officers. In 2017 alone, there were 416 individuals killed during a police chase, which was a 22% increase from the four years prior.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a study on traffic safety facts involving occupant fatalities in law enforcement vehicles involved in motor vehicle crashes. The report stated there were an average of 24 annual fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents involving the police. Additionally, the total fatalities of people who were not occupants of the law enforcement vehicles averaged at 101 between 1980-2015.
Kentucky 2019 Supreme Court Decision
A serious change was made to the State’s tort laws after a 2019 Kentucky Supreme Court decision.
The decision was made on the Gonzalez v. Johnson case, which involved a wrongful death suit filed by the estate of Luiz Gonzalez after he was killed by a criminal suspect in a high-speed chase. The chase was initiated by two police officers—Deputy Sherrif Jeremy Johnson and Sheriff Tony Hampton.
Originally, the circuit court granted summary judgement for the two officers based on the findings of Chambers—a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that indicated a police officer cannot be the proximate or legal cause of damage inflicted on a third-party by a fleeing suspect.
However, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed their decision, holding the following:
- Insofar as Chambers holds an officer cannot be the proximate or legal cause of damage inflicted on a third party by a fleeing suspect, Chambers is overruled; and
- An officer can be the cause-in-fact and legal cause of damages inflicted upon a third party as a result of a negligent pursuit.
There are several reasons for the Supreme Court’s reversal. When Chambers was originally decided as law, the state of Kentucky had not yet switched to their current ‘comparative fault’ approach. Additionally, there have been several statutory changes in Kentucky since the Chambers decision:
- KRS 189.940 – This statute was amended to require the driver of an emergency vehicle (such as a police officer) to give warning by the continuous illumination of warning lights and sirens in emergency situations.
- KRS 189.910 – 189.950 – The amendments made through these statutes ultimately require the driver of any emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle to use “due regard for the safety of all persons using the street or highway” when driving under emergency situations.
It’s also important to note that Kentucky applies the substantial factor test when determining the cause of a tort claim. This test is a way to determine who is at fault for the resulting damages of an accident. The test is meant to consider an individual’s actions to determine if it was the substantial factor in causing the injury or death. That means although neither of the officers in Gonzalez actually hit the vehicle Gonzalez was in, their negligent actions in pursuing the chase implied that they could be held liable for the resulting death.
Essentially, the decision made in Gonzalez changed Kentucky’s legal landscape to allow personal injury claims against a law enforcement officer if their negligent actions resulted in any injuries or death. However, the ruling ultimately leaves the decision up to the judge and jurors in a personal injury case.
Personal injury cases involving law enforcement are complex and will require an attorney experienced in these types of litigation cases. Contact the attorneys with Morrin Law Firm to discuss the details of your case.
On April 24, 2020, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed House Bill 298 titled Jill’s Law. The law addresses the policies and procedures for police officers involved in pursuits of suspected criminals.
The legislation was created after 18-year-old Jill Hurst was killed in 2019 by a driver involved in a high-speed chase with law enforcement. According to a local report, the driver of the vehicle that struck Hurst’s car was high on LSD at the time of the police chase.
Under HB 298, a new criterion was made for determining the decision-making with interest of public safety when law enforcement considers the initiation or termination of a vehicle pursuit. The criteria include, but is not limited to the following:
- The potential harm or danger to others if the fleeing suspect evades or escapes immediate custody;
- The seriousness of the offense committed or believed to be committed by the fleeing suspect, prior to the officer activating emergency signals and equipment;
- If the officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver or occupant of the vehicle that is fleeing represents a clear and present danger to public safety;
- Safety factors that pose a risk to peace officers, other motorists, pedestrians, or other third parties;
- Vehicular or pedestrian traffic safety and volume;
- Weather and vehicle conditions;
- Potential speeds of the pursuit; and
- Consideration of whether the identity of an offender is known and could be apprehended at a later time.
Example Kentucky Case
May 2023 – Georgetown Police responded to a suspected intoxicated driver that resulted in a high-speed pursuit. According to a local report, Deionta Catlett was suspected of driving under the influence in Georgetown when police attempted to apprehend him. Catlett proceeded to drive onto northbound U.S. Route 25 where he took a U-turn at Burton Pike to come back southbound. The responding officers deployed spike strips, but they failed to stop the suspect’s vehicle. While he was fleeing the police southbound, Catlett crossed the center line and hit another vehicle head-on. The head-on collision resulted in the death of 46-year-old David Jonathan Jett. Catlett was transported to a nearby hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Process for Filing a Personal Injury Claim Against Law Enforcement
If you’ve recently been injured in a car accident caused by a police officer, you may be left feeling helpless. Depending on the extent of your injuries, you could be facing a long road to physical and mental recovery.
It’s important to address that injuries caused by the recklessness or negligence of another person or party may hold grounds for a personal injury claim. If your case is successful, you could be awarded compensation for the damages caused by the collision. Keep in mind that suing a government entity or its employees, including police officers, often involves additional procedures and limitations. The following outlines the process for filing a personal injury claim against a law enforcement officer in Kentucky:
- Seek medical attention – After any collision, the first thing you should do is contact the police and receive medical attention. Getting checked out by a medical professional both addresses any immediate injuries and establishes a record of the victim’s injuries.
- Gather and preserve evidence – If possible, it is helpful for your personal injury case to collect evidence related to the accident. This can include images of the wreck and any property damage, police reports, witness statements, and any relevant medical records.
- Identify the responsible party – This part is especially important. Following a collision, you will need a Kentucky police officer to respond to the accident scene and file a collision report. If the accident involves a law enforcement officer, you should identify and document the officer involved and the government entity they work for. This important to understand and distinguish the difference between suing an individual officer and suing the government entity.
- Consult an experienced attorney – It is highly advisable to consult with a personal injury attorney when dealing with injuries from a Kentucky car accident. An attorney experienced in dealing with claims and litigation against government entities can help guide you through the legal proceedings and help ensure you’ve met all the necessary requirements.
- File a lawsuit – If you cannot secure a settlement through negotiations or the notice of claim process, your attorney may advise filing a lawsuit against the law enforcement officer responsible for your injuries. Keep in mind that lawsuits against any government entity have specific rules and regulations established under the FTCA. Again, an experienced attorney with Morrin Law Firm can help with this specific process.
- Discovery and trial – If you choose to take the litigation route after being injured by a police officer, the next step is the discovery phase which involves gathering all evidence and exchanging the information between parties. If the case is not settled, it will proceed to trial. At this point a judge and jury will hear the case details to determine liability and damages. The personal injury attorneys with Morrin Law are knowledgeable and prepared to represent our clients at trial.
Important: In general, personal injury claims against a person or party that caused injuries or wrongful death involving a motor vehicle must be completed within a specific time range. KRS 304.39-230 provides that victims have two years from the date of the accident or last PIP payment to file. However, Morrin Law Firm always stresses that the worst thing you can do for your case is to wait on filing. Your best shot at a successful personal injury claim is to file early and with the help of an attorney experienced in FTCA-related claims.
Contact Morrin Law Firm
Getting injured in a car accident that was not your fault is a frustrating experience. Not to mention the added stress that comes with trying to mend your injuries and restore your life back to normalcy. The last thing you want to deal with is the legal intricacies of a personal injury case.
When handling car accident injuries caused by law enforcement, the process becomes much more complex. You will want an attorney on your side who has dealt with these types of cases before. By hiring an attorney, you can rest easy and focus on regaining your health while we take on the bulk of legal work.
The personal injury attorneys with Morrin Law have spent years representing Kentucky locals who have been injured due to the negligence of another person or party. If you are ready to take back your life and be awarded compensation for your injuries, contact the office of Morrin Law. Our attorneys will provide you with a risk-free case evaluation when you call us at (859) 358-0300.