High-Speed Police Chase Kills San Jose Teenager
A pursuit which began when an allegedly intoxicated motorist refused to pull over ended in a fireball collision which killed one person and seriously injured three others.
The chase began when California Highway Patrol officers tried to pull over a speeding vehicle on Dimeo Lane. Instead of yielding to police, the driver accelerated away, eventually striking a curb, careening into a guardrail, and erupting into flame. The driver, who fled the scene on foot, was apprehended a short distance away. Three other people remained in the car. One escaped on his own. First responders used the jaws of life to extricate the other two people. Only one survived.
Upon his release from the hospital, the alleged driver was arrested on multiple counts, including DUI manslaughter, and booked into jail.
Liability Issues in Police Pursuit Claims
The doctrine of official immunity gets a lot of attention these days. This rule shields many police officers from civil or criminal liability if they were discharging their official duties at the time. However, this doctrine has some limits. With regard to police chases, victims may usually file damage claims if:
- Policy Violation: Many law enforcement agencies have permanent, written anti-chase policies. Other times, an ad hoc policy, like a dispatcher’s “pursue with caution” warning, applies. The problem for victims is that these policies are so vague that it’s hard to clearly establish a violation.
- Abuse of Force: Some Supreme Court cases have equated a high-speed chase with the use of deadly force. As such, the chase is only lawful if the suspect presented a significant threat of serious injury to officers or others. Once again, this standard is rather vague.
Ultimately, it’s usually up to the jury or another factfinder to determine if officers crossed the dangerous police pursuit line.
Before they file civil claims, most of these victims or survivors must file a notice of claim. This notice gives the state, country, or other governmental entity a chance to investigate the claim and settle it quietly. If the law enforcement agency and a San Jose personal injury attorney cannot reach an agreement, the victim may normally file suit.
So, in the above story, the California Highway Patrol could be legally responsible for this death and these injuries. The tortfeasor (negligent driver) could also be liable, probably under the negligence per se doctrine. Tortfeasors are usually liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a penal safety law, like the DUI law, and
- That violation substantially caused injury.
DUIs are usually difficult to establish if there were multiple people in the car. Prosecutors must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the defendant was driving the car at the time. However, the negligence per se doctrine typically applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI in court. Civil juries determine all the facts in civil cases, including guilt or innocence of a criminal offense.
Sometimes, the tortfeasor is impaired but not intoxicated. These two I-words are not synonymous. Most people are legally intoxicated after they have three or four drinks. But dangerous impairment begins after the first sip of alcohol. Evidence of impairment includes erratic driving, bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and the tortfeasor’s prior schedule (i.e. did s/he recently attend a party where alcohol was served).
Count on an Experienced Santa Clara County Lawyer
Multiple parties are often potentially responsible for car crash damages. For a free consultation with an experienced San Jose car accident lawyer, contact Solution Now Law Firm. We routinely handle matters throughout the Bay Area.