Danger in Black And White

February 20, 2016

Twenty-four South Carolinians, a figure that includes twenty civilians, were killed in officer-involved crashes between 2010 and 2014.

Nearly half these incidents involved excessive speed; for example, University of South Carolina police Sgt. Allan Bolin was travelling an estimated 76 mph through a residential area when he struck and killed Stacy Case. Distracted driving is another major issue, as most patrol cars are packed with electronic equipment that have attention-demanding displays. The number of fatal incidents and serious injuries has prompted a number of departments to implement written policies concerning the appropriateness of high-speed chases in South Carolina.

USC criminology professor Geoffrey Alpert declared that “more cops get killed by cars than they do by bullets.”

High-Speed Police Chases

Nationally, one person dies every day in a high-speed police chase, and a majority of these incidents begin with a traffic stop. Many times, the underlying issue is that the “show of force” that comes from a wailing siren and flashing lights has the opposite effect on a targeted person: instead of becoming compliant and fearfully submissive, the person becomes aggressive and extraordinarily dangerous. This conclusion is supported by the fact that many fleeing suspects stop running when the police stop chasing.

The other dynamic is that police officers feel an adrenaline rush at these moments, in their quest to “get the bad guy.” In other words, often times things outside of capturing a perpetrator, including bystander safety, becomes a secondary priority.

Liability in a Police Chase

In days past, government employees were immune from negligence lawsuits under the theory of sovereign immunity. That theory still applies, unless the government allows victims to sue it. South Carolina executed such a waiver in the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. This measure provides that government employees, including police officers, can be sued, if their actions, or inactions, would have constituted negligence in a civilian.

One way to prove negligence is to show a reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property. South Carolina law offers a guideline in this area, as it prohibits police chases if they “endanger life or property.” In addition to the vehicle’s velocity, other factors, like the time of day and number of bystanders, may also come into effect.

Additionally, many peace officer divisions have permanent or ad hoc policies in this area. The Columbia Police Department only permits high-speed chases if the officers do not exceed 20 mph above the speed limit. Other times, the dispatcher may make an announcement like “do not pursue” or “pursue with extreme caution.” Violation of a policy is evidence of negligence.

Damages in a high-speed police chase normally include cash compensation for both economic and noneconomic losses. Depending on the circumstances, punitive damages may also be available.

Partner with an Assertive Lawyer

Reckless police pursuits endanger thousands of people. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices. After hours and hospital visits are available.

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