Law enforcement officers juggle many tasks and responsibilities, even when they’re behind the wheel of their patrol cars. They must be ready to respond to calls and dispatches at a moment’s notice, and they may even need to pursue drivers who have violated traffic laws through busy intersections and on high-speed interstates. Unfortunately, car chases can be dangerous for other drivers on the road. The fleeing driver typically has no care toward the safety of the occupants of the vehicles around them and will speed and change lanes or direction suddenly.
Police officers are also human, and that means they’re susceptible to the same negligent and dangerous driving habits as everyone else. They may speed, fail to yield, drift into the path of other vehicles, and even drive while distracted.
Whether they’re responding to a call, pursuing a suspect, or just driving negligently, there’s no question that police officers are capable of causing serious crashes. But can victims of those accidents sue the police officers who hit them?
Although police can be sued for things like false arrest, use of excessive force, or failure to intervene, it’s more difficult to hold them liable for auto accidents and other injuries that occur during the normal course of their duties. That’s because governmental entities, including police departments and their officers, are protected by the Indiana Tort Claims Act.
That means that if a police officer is involved in a crash while responding to an emergency call or pursuing a suspect, he or she may not easily be held liable if the call necessitated driving at high speeds or rolling through an intersection without stopping. However, that doesn’t mean individual police officers and the departments they work for are completely immune to lawsuits and liability.
Just as every auto accident involving civilians must be investigated to determine fault and whether negligence was a factor, the same is true for crashes involving police officers. Even if the crash happened while a police officer was performing his everyday duties, negligence may have been a factor.
For example, a police officer who is pursuing a speeding driver to pull him over and give him a ticket isn’t immune to liability if his negligence causes a crash. However, proving negligence requires an in-depth investigation, and many police officers and the departments they work for are hesitant to admit that it occurred, and they also may be hesitant to share potential evidence. This makes proving negligence very difficult.
For most personal injury claims, Indiana follows a system of comparative fault. That means that people who are partially at fault for their accidents, provided their level of fault is less than 51%, can still get compensation for their medical bills and lost wages.
However, that system doesn’t apply to accidents involving governmental entities, including police officers. People who are hurt in crashes involving police officers and are found to have any level of fault—even 1%–are barred from recovering damages for their accident-related expenses. Examples of fault include speeding, failing to make room for an officer whose sirens are on, or failure to use a turn signal.
If only one person is injured or killed in an accident involving a governmental entity in Indiana, including a police officer, their or their family’s claim is capped at $700,000. The cap goes up to $5,000,000 for accidents and injuries that affect more than one person.
And unfortunately for accident victims, punitive damages can’t be imposed in accident claims involving police and other governmental entities.
For most injuries in Indiana, victims have two years from the date they were hurt to bring claims against the at-fault parties. But under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, victims have only 270 days from the day they were injured to file a Tort Claim Notice when the accident involves a government entity such as a police officer.
Once filed, the Indiana Office of the Attorney General reviews claims and responds within 90 days with either an approval or denial. When claims are denied, victims have the right to file lawsuits in civil court to pursue damages for their accident-related expenses.
Crashes involving police officers and their patrol cars can result in serious injuries. That’s because they often travel at high speeds, especially when they’re responding to calls and emergencies. If a police officer crashed into a vehicle that you or someone you love was traveling in because of their negligence, we want to help you get compensation.
Contact the Indiana auto accident lawyers at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin today for a free consultation. We’ll put our years of experience with both Indiana personal injury law and the Indiana Tort Claims Act to work for your family.
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The financial burden that often comes with a serious injury can be too much for many people to bear. Unexpected medical debt, damaged personal property, and the sudden loss of income can impact the budgets of most families. The good news is that a successful injury claim could help reduce that financial strain after a serious accident. Get in touch with a Terre Haute personal injury lawyer with Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin to learn more.
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