What happens when a police officer crashes his or her car into another car or pedestrian? Can the police department be held liable? Since I am a personal injury lawyer at Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A. located in Ohio, I can only answer this question as it pertains to motor vehicle accidents involving sheriff’s deputies, police and state highway patrol officers in my state. Laws vary from state to state, but generally the laws are similar throughout the United States.
If a police officer accidentally collides his or her police car with your car or a pedestrian, generally the same rules apply as to any car crash. If the cop is at fault, you can recover from the state or municipality that employs the officer. Assuming he/she was working at the time of the collision. If the officer is off duty, then his or her personal insurance applies. There are important exceptions.
If the on-duty police officer is responding to it then he/she is immune from liability under the terms of political subdivision immunity, as is the city, county or state that employs the officer. So, your personal injury lawyer will need to determine if the officer was acting during an emergency to determine if coverage applies. If the officer was responding to a call at the time of the crash, then immunity applies. Immunity can only be overcome if the officer acted in a willful, wanton or reckless manner. This is tough to prove.
When a police officer and his/her employer are immune from liability for personal injuries or wrongful death caused during a public safety emergency, your personal injury lawyer will look to your own uninsured (UM) coverage for compensation. In some instances, this coverage does not apply when the wrongdoer is immune from liability. So, a careful reading of the insurance policy language and applicable case law is necessary to determine if a recovery can be had.
Another scenario gives rise to additional legal considerations and a different theory of recovery. If the officer intentionally causes harm with his or her vehicle, such as slamming it into a crime suspect to prevent a getaway, this may give rise to a potential Civil Rights claim. Civil Rights claims arise when a government employee abuses his or her position and causes injury to a citizen. These are tough cases that require a deep dive into the circumstances of the attack. Was the officer defending himself/herself or a member of the public at the time? Did the officer violate departmental protocols? Did the officer use excessive force?
Lawsuits against the police for traffic accidents are fact intensive and require a detailed investigation by your personal injury attorney. It is in your best interest to contact a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer soon after a police-caused crash in order to preserve evidence that may explain how the crash occurred.