What Happens if a Police Car Causes an Accident?

By Peter DePaolis

Accidents caused by police cars can be different than other collisions that do not involve law enforcement vehicles. Sometimes, the law enforcement agency can be liable, and other times, the agency has immunity from liability. The specific circumstances will determine what remedies the injured person might have available.

These injury claims are sophisticated and complex. You will not want to try to figure out the complicated issues on your own and make a mistake that could jeopardize your ability to get compensation. A Virginia personal injury attorney knows the different procedural rules that can apply in these cases.

Was the Police Officer at Fault?

If someone else caused the accident, you cannot get money damages from the law enforcement agency just because they were also involved in the collision. Whoever the defendant is in the personal injury case, that party must have committed a negligent act that caused or contributed to the accident. 

Let’s say that a police officer was on her standard patrol route when a drunk driver crashed into the police vehicle and your car. You could seek compensation from the drunk driver because their careless act of driving while impaired by alcohol was the cause of the accident. If the police officer did nothing wrong, the officer and law enforcement agency have no liability.

Was the Police Officer Negligent and Did the Negligence Cause the Collision?

You can only file an injury claim against someone who caused the accident through a careless act. Let’s say that the police officer was checking the computer for some information while maneuvering through traffic. Due to the distraction, the officer rear-ended the car in front of it when the light changed. The officer could be considered negligent unless there was a legal excuse for the actions.

Were the Lights and Siren Active on the Police Car or Was the Patrol Car Responding to an Emergency?

When a police officer activates the lights and siren on the patrol car, other drivers on the road are supposed to yield the right-of-way and try to get out of the path of the police car if they can do so safely. Often, drivers ignore police cars that have their lights flashing and sirens blaring, and sometimes, that failure to yield leads to accidents.

There is a very limited emergency vehicle exception to the requirement that an officer has to follow the rules of the road like everyone else. Even in an emergency situation, whether the lights and siren are on or not, the police officer is still supposed to drive carefully and maintain a constant lookout for people and vehicles. 

High-speed chases that endanger the safety and lives of innocent bystanders usually do not get excused by the emergency exception, particularly if the high-speed chase was not justified by an immediate danger to the public posed by the fleeing party. Also, if an officer loses control of the police car when in pursuit or in another alleged emergency situation, the officer or agency can be liable for harm to others.

The Bottom Line

Personal injury claims against government agencies are decided on a case-by-case assessment of the facts. There are more issues in these cases than we have covered in this overview. Also, you might have a much shorter deadline and have to follow different procedures in your claim than you would against an ordinary person. You will want to talk to a Virginia personal injury attorney as soon as possible to preserve the possibility of seeking compensation for your injuries and losses. Get in touch with our office today for a free consultation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.