Legal Liability Following Dangerous High Speed Police Chases

police.jpgLaw enforcement departments at all levels serve an important role in keeping our communities safe. However, our Atlanta traffic accident attorneys also know that under Georgia law, the police are allowed to disregard traffic laws, such as red lights and speed limits, based on the type of call to which the officers are responding. But this does not give police officers license to be reckless and unnecessarily endanger the lives of innocent civilians with whom they share the roads.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week highlighted two recent cases showing the danger in having police officers ill-trained for this type of driving and in ignoring habitual risky driving by officers. In December 2006, 25 year old rookie cop James Stoudenmire was going 34 miles over the speed limit on his way to back up another officer when he slammed into the car turning left in front of him, killing 52 year old Willie Allen Sargent Jr. On New Year’s Eve, just a few months ago, a veteran Georgia State Trooper Donald Crozier ran a red light without even a slight pause and plowed into an SUV in downtown Atlanta, killing 54 year old Kathy Porter, wife of Atlanta Braves athletic trainer Jeff Porter. In both instances, the officers were responding to non-emergency calls and both were speeding.

Last month, a jury awarded Mr. Sargent’s family $2 million in a judgment against Gwinnett County, Officer Stoudenmire’s employer. Officer Stoudenmire was suspended without pay for 24 days because it was his first such incident, but he later resigned in the face of a DUI two years after this deadly crash. Officer Crozier was to blame for four prior crashes since 2008, and he was finally terminated after this fifth deadly crash on New Year’s Eve. There is an ongoing investigation and potential criminal charges against him.

When responding to a call, officers on the road still owe a duty of care to other motorists. This means that even though they are allowed to run red lights, they must slow down at intersections and watch for oncoming cars that have green lights. The police cars must also activate their lights and sirens to warn others. It appeared that Officer Crozier did activate his lights, but witnesses did not hear sirens. And Officer Stoudenmire failed to activate either the lights or sirens.

This is a problem that must be addressed, as it costs innocent lives and taxpayer dollars. Police responding to calls were the cause of 84 fatal car crashes in 2010 alone, and only half of those calls were emergencies. Car crashes were also the primary cause of officer death in Georgia last year, accounting for six in ten deaths. After the recent New Year’s Eve crash, Col. Mark McDonough, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, is requiring every state trooper to complete a four-hour training block on exercising due care on the roads. He also plans this year to purchase a new driver training simulator to replicate real road conditions, right down to the distraction of the police radio.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, the Atlanta car crash attorneys at Sammons & Carpenter can help. Regardless of whether the party at fault is a government employee, such as a police officer, or private citizen, our attorneys can determine whether you have a valid case and, if so, how to go forward. To get in touch with an experienced attorney, call at 404-814-8949 or fill out our confidential case evaluation form online to schedule a free consultation.

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