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The Dangers of Police Pursuit Accidents

Updated on February 16, 2010

Innocent Victim Collides with Suspect in Police Pursuit

The unfortunate end to one police pursuit
The unfortunate end to one police pursuit

Police Pursuit Accidents

How common are police pursuit accidents?

Police pursuits happen every day in the United States. In fact, they are so common that we have entire television shows devoted to watching nothing but police pursuits. The statistics for police pursuit accidents are also staggering. Accurate statistics are hard to come by as requirements for reporting pursuit related accidents are not uniform across the United States. Estimates range from 350 deaths per year to 2,500 deaths per year as a direct result of police pursuit accidents. Additionally, thousands are injured in police pursuit accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 1998, 314 people were killed in police pursuits. Of those 314, 200 were either the law enforcement officer involved in the pursuit or the individual being pursued. That means that the remaining 114 people killed in those pursuits were innocent bystanders. In 2003, in California alone, 51 deaths were attributable to police pursuit accidents with eighteen of those being innocent bystanders. Police pursuits typically begin with a simple traffic stop. People refuse to stop, or flee the stop, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they have an open warrant, sometimes they have contraband in the car, and sometimes they just panic. What can you do if you find yourself in the path of a police chase or have been the innocent victim of a police pursuit accident?

What can I do to protect myself from being and innocent bystander?

First, if you hear an emergency vehicle siren, always pull over immediately. If possible, get off the roadway altogether. Pull into a parking lot or off onto the shoulder. If you are unable to safely pull off the roadway, then slow down and take note of where the siren is coming from. If you see a chase heading in your direction, take evasive measures if possible. Do the best you can to move out of the path of the oncoming chase. Pay attention to police if they are directing traffic. Sometimes they have set up a road block to attempt to capture the fleeing vehicle or to divert traffic. Always obey their directions – they are trying to keep you out of harms way.

What can I do if I do become and innocent victim?

If the worst happens and you are unable to avoid becoming an innocent victim of a police pursuit, then contact an experienced personal injury attorney. State laws vary as to whether the police have immunity from damages caused during a police pursuit and if they have immunity whether it is absolute or qualified. That's all just legal jargon to say that it depends what state you are in whether the police can be held responsible or not. While the police are frequently afforded immunity from liability for damages resulting from police pursuits, only an experienced attorney can evaluate your case and advise you whether you have a valid claim against anyone involved in the chase and ensuing accident. Sometimes, the person that initiated the pursuit can be held liable for injuries to third party bystanders. While most of us would agree that law enforcement officers are sometimes forced to engage in police pursuits, that doesn’t mean that innocent bystanders should suffer the consequences without being compensated for damages that have incurred.


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    • leigia67 profile image

      leigia67 8 years ago

      I was a defense attorney for years Nancy, and yes, it REALLY pisses them off. The worst part is that most of the time is really wasn't necessary - just stupidity on the part of the person being chased.

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 8 years ago from Georgia

      I watch the police chase shows sometimes. It's always sad to see innocent people get hurt or their cars get totaled. It must make police officers really mad to have to chase the people. Every show I've seen they always tackle the person to the ground.