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Austin Personal Injury Blog

Monday, October 15, 2018

Who is Liable for Fatalities in Texas High Speed Chases?

If your loved one died because of a high-speed police pursuit in Texas, you might have legal recourse against the law enforcement agency and in some instances, against the police officer. It can be hard to know who you can sue for the death of your loved one in these situations. Working with an experienced Texas automobile accident attorney can be the difference between winning and losing.

Who Is to Blame When the Officer Follows the Department’s High-Speed Pursuit Policy?

You might think that a police officer who did not violate her department’s high-speed chase protocols when engaging in a pursuit that killed someone would be blameless, but this is not always the case. The Texas Department of Public Safety has assigned fault to officers who kill people in chases that complied with their department’s policies.

The Risks of Police Chases

About half of all high-speed police pursuits kill someone.  On the average, police chases will kill one person a day, every day in America. Since about 90 percent of police chases in Texas are for nonviolent crimes, these pursuits kill a lot of innocent people. Dallas reduced its chases by 90 percent by enacting stricter laws that only allow police pursuits in violent crimes.

Innocent bystanders in Austin have died because the police chased suspects of non-violent crimes. If all Texas cities enacted the same restrictions that Dallas has, it would prevent the senseless deaths of innocent people.

What Happens When the Officer Violates the Department’s High-Speed Chase Rules?

We can evaluate whether to sue the officer if he acted in reckless disregard for the lives of innocent bystanders, whether he followed the department’s rules on chases or not. If he put the public in harm’s way and violated the department’s high-speed pursuit rules, we have a stronger argument for holding him liable. We can explore whether to sue the department as well as the officer, if the law enforcement agency has a high-speed pursuit policy that exposes the public to an unreasonable risk of harm.

The Challenge of Locating Law Enforcement High-Speed Pursuit Policies

Many Texas municipalities refuse to release their departmental rules on high-speed chases, claiming that if people knew the departmental restrictions on pursuits, they could skirt around the law. Public safety experts challenge this concept, saying that there is no evidence to support this claim.

Some police departments release their high-speed chase policies to anyone who requests them through the Texas public records request law, but other departments refuse to do so. If you want to file a lawsuit against a department and an officer for a fatal high-speed pursuit, it can be essential to know the department high-speed chase policy.

How Officers Justify High-Speed Chases of Suspects in Minor, Non-Violent Crimes

Some police departments say that they need to have the unfettered authority to engage in high-speed pursuits of suspects, even those who do not present a current danger to the public, because:

  • If they do not have this right, there will be complete anarchy in the streets.
  • They need to make an example of people who try to evade law enforcement.

The Victims of High-Speed Police Pursuits

High-speed pursuits take the lives of:

  • Suspects of minor, non-violent crimes as well as those suspected of dangerous violations of the law
  • Passengers in the vehicles of suspects. These passengers can be accomplices or people who have done nothing wrong. These fatalities can even be innocent victims carjacked by the fleeing suspect.
  • Innocent people wrongly identified as suspects
  • Innocent people in other vehicles, having nothing to do with the suspected crime.
  • Other innocent people like pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Police officers involved in the pursuit.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Policy on Chases

Statewide, there are few restrictions on police chases. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS):

  • Allows high-speed chases
  • Allows law enforcement officers to shoot at fleeing vehicles
  • Makes little distinction between dangerous fleeing suspects and suspects in petty crimes

Their rationale is that trying to get away from law enforcement is a felony, which makes the fleeing suspect a danger to the public.

If a high-speed police chase killed your loved one, you don’t have to move forward alone. Contact our Texas personal injury lawyers today for a free consultation.

 


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