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Trial Set To Begin In High Speed Chase Wreck

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Shortly before jury selection was scheduled in a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy’s reckless driving trial, new details emerged about the serious crash that he is charged with causing.

In May 2016, even though he was told several times to break off the pursuit, the deputy was driving more than 100mph while looking for a suspected felon. Dash cam video obtained from his patrol car shows that the deputy only had his emergency lights on as he passed through intersections. Furthermore, he changed lanes nine times as he barreled westbound on Southern Boulevard. He eventually slammed into a Smart Car, and the driver was rushed to a local hospital suffering from a traumatic brain injury, ruptured spleen, fractured skull, and a litany of other serious injuries.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office placed the deputy on unpaid leave in September 2016 pending the outcome of his trial.

High Speed Police Chases

During pursuits, especially ones that involve known felons or other potentially dangerous people, peace officers have considerable discretion in terms of giving chase. In fact, many agencies either have no written policies in this area or have such vaguely-worded policies that officers almost never face accountability.

Yet as the above story illustrates, these pursuits are incredibly dangerous. Over the last few decades, over 5,000 innocent bystanders have been killed in these pursuits, and tens of thousands more have been seriously injured. This number far eclipses the number of innocent people killed in officer-involved shootings over that same period, prompting the Department of Justice to label high speed chases as the most dangerous of all ordinary police functions.

Officers only have limited immunity in these cases, and recent technological advances may reduce their immunity even further. For example, Star Chasers, which are small GPS trackers shot out of patrol car canons, essentially eliminate the need for any pursuit, because officers can simply follow suspects at safe distances and converge on them later.

The deputy’s immunity may be even lower in the above case, since he was repeatedly ordered to break off the pursuit and he ignored those orders. Furthermore, driving erratically and at high speeds without sirens on and/or lights flashing is basically prima facie evidence of reckless conduct.

Liability Issues

Section 316.192 of the Florida Statutes defines reckless driving as operating a motor vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” In a civil trial, if the jury concludes that the deputy drove in a reckless manner per the statute, which it probably would, the negligence per se shortcut applies. In these cases, instead of the five elements in a traditional negligence case, victim/plaintiffs basically only need to establish cause.

Furthermore, under the respondeat superior rule, the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) employer, which in this case was Palm Beach County, is responsible for the victim/plaintiff’s damages.

These damages normally include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. In extreme cases, additional punitive damages are available as well.

Reach Out to Assertive Lawyers

Dangerous high speed police chases seriously injure thousands of people. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.

Resources:

cbs12.com/news/local/video-deputy-crashes-into-car-driving-104-mph

usatoday.com/story/news/2015/07/30/police-pursuits-fatal-injuries/30187827/

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