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If My Car Was Hit by a Police Car During a Criminal Pursuit, Can I File an Injury Claim?

Posted on behalf of Lynch Law Firm on Oct 19, 2020  in Car Accidents News

police-car-making-right-turnU.S. law enforcement agencies engage in tens of thousands of vehicle pursuits each year – a Department of Justice study found state and local law enforcement did 68,000 pursuits in 2012 alone. These are incredibly dangerous - between 1996 and 2015, an average of 355 people per year were killed in pursuit-related crashes.

Unfortunately, 33 percent of those killed were in a vehicle not involved in the pursuit or bystanders who were not in a vehicle.  

If you lost a loved one in one of these crashes, you may be able to seek compensation for your damages. However, filing a claim against a government entity is complicated and requires extensive legal knowledge and experience.

That is why you should strongly consider seeking legal representation from one of our New Jersey car accident lawyers. We can review your claim in a free consultation. We do not charge any fees up front and only get paid if you receive compensation.  

Sovereign Immunity in New Jersey

Police officers and other employees of government entities are covered by sovereign immunity. Under sovereign immunity law, citizens cannot sue governmental or public entities, including districts and public authorities, or state, county or municipal entities, when those entities or their employees are acting within the scope of their employment. If a public employee acted using his or her good faith judgment, he or she is likely immune to liability for the effects of those actions.   

However, there are some exceptions to sovereign immunity laws that may allow innocent bystanders injured in a police pursuit to file a claim.

According to Section 59:2-2 of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA), government entities are liable for injuries an employee causes “within the scope of his employment in the same manner as a private citizen.” This means that you could bring a claim against a government entity if an employee’s act or omission was the proximate cause of your injury.

When government employees knowingly engage in criminal activity or act beyond the scope of their duty, they may be held liable.

However, determining if your claim fits within an exception to the sovereign immunity law can be complicated. That is why it is important to discuss the situation with a licensed attorney to determine if you may have a valid claim.

Regulations on Criminal Pursuits

There are federal laws that limit law enforcement agencies from conducting certain types of criminal pursuits. In 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a municipality may be held liable for failing to train officers in a particular duty where the need for training is obvious and lack of training is likely to result in the violation of any Constitutional Rights.

The extent of a government entity’s liability for personal injury or property damage as a result of a high-speed pursuit depends on sovereign immunity laws of the state where the incident occurred.

For example, if a state has waived sovereign immunity for itself and its municipal governments, it may be liable for negligence. As stated before, New Jersey has partially waived its sovereign immunity.

On top of federal guidelines for criminal pursuits, New Jersey also has its own policies for law enforcement agencies.  

A police officer only has the authority to pursue a suspect vehicle when:

  • The officer reasonably believes the violator has committed an offense of the first or second degree
  • The officer reasonably believes the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the public or other police officers

Once an officer establishes the authority to conduct a pursuit, they must:

  • Weigh the need to immediately arrest the suspect against the risk to the officer and others exposed as a result of the pursuit
  • Immediately turn on their emergency lights, sirens and headlights
  • Notify communications and a superior officer providing as much information as possible

There are a number of other restrictions for police officers in New Jersey including how many police cars can actively pursue a suspect vehicle, who can be in a police car when a chase is initiated and how unmarked police vehicles may not be part of the chase unless they are equipped with emergency lights and sirens.

Proving Negligence

Determining whether you have a case against a government employee, in this case being a police officer who hit your vehicle during a police pursuit, requires proof of negligence on the government employee’s part.

With the right team of attorneys prepared to look at the facts of your potential case, proving negligence may be less stressful than you think.

One example of how you may have a case is if there is legal precedent from a previous case that can be used to help your argument.

In New Jersey, police officers have absolute immunity except where the officer engages in willful misconduct.

In a 1993 New Jersey case Tice v. Cramer, willful misconduct in the context of a police chase has two specific elements:

  1. Disobeying a specific lawful command of a superior or a specific lawful standing order
  2. Knowing of the command or standing order that is being violated and intending to violate it

Filing a Claim

A claim under the New Jersey Tort Claim Act must include all of the following:

  • The name and address of the claimant
  • The date, location and other circumstances of the incident which gave rise to the claim
  • A general description of injury, property damage or loss
  • The names of the government employees who caused the injury or damage

Give Us a Call to Talk About Your Potential Case

There is a time limit for filing a claim under the New Jersey Tort Claim Act. That is why it is so important to talk a licensed attorney right away.

Lynch Law Firm’s licensed attorneys have a proven track record of recovering compensation for crash victims. Remember, we do not get paid unless you receive compensation. There are no fees while working on your case.

Call today for a free consultation (800) 518-0508

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