This past July, a wrong-way, head-on accident with injuries was the result of what was initially just a simple traffic stop by authorities in NW D.C. It all began when a uniformed officer with the Secret Service spied a Chevrolet Sonic driving the wrong way on I Street in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The driver did not respond to efforts by the officer, who then gave chase—following as the driver drove westbound into the eastbound lanes of I-66 before slamming into another automobile. The suspect then fled on foot, leaving behind a passenger. Remarkably, all individuals involved in the crash sustained only non-life-threatening injuries.
Pursuit chases such as this one are gaining attention throughout the United States, as jurisdictions wrestle with the outcomes of such a dangerous and unpredictable tactic of traffic authorities. The Los Angeles Times recently covered a Los Angeles County grand jury report that ultimately determined police chases are “causing unnecessary bystander injuries and deaths.” The stark reality is that pursuit-related crashes killed an average of 355 persons each year from 1996 to 2015, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Most people might assume that police only chase offenders for the most severe violations and threats to public safety, yet 91 percent of all high-speed chases were initiated in response to a nonviolent crime, according to a national study conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Institute of Justice. Specifically, 42 percent involved a mere traffic violation and 15 percent of the time such chases involve a suspected drunk driver—the last individual anyone would want forced into high-speed antics on our highways.
Unfortunately, it is an innocent motorist or pedestrian who frequently bears the brunt of these heat-of-the-moment decisions by police officers. USA Today has reported that nearly half of all people killed in police pursuits from 1979 through 2013 were not the drivers, but bystanders or passengers in the chased car.
There is no doubt that such high-speed chases are incredibly dangerous to the officers and the suspects—but little consideration is given to the average citizen who might cross paths with such a potentially unnecessary event.
It’s important to understand that innocent bystanders injured in such pursuits, such as the young man on his way to work when his car was struck head-on by the driver fleeing the Secret Service on I-66, are entitled to be compensated for their injuries, not only by the fleeing driver, but depending on the circumstances, potentially by the law enforcement officer/agency engaging in the pursuit. It is similarly important to recognize that such claims have the worthwhile societal benefit of lessening the likelihood of future pursuits as history shows over and over again, that holding people or organizations accountable for needless, dangerous conduct leads to changes in behavior.
It is also important to understand that the current state of the law in Virginia regarding an officer’s legal responsibility for such crashes is complicated and if you or a family member is pulled into such a pursuit, it’s essential that you consult an attorney who is experienced in such cases as soon as possible following the crash. Curcio Law can help you steer a successful course through such litigation, and is ready to hear the details of your case with a free consultation.
Tom Curcio has devoted his career to representing people seriously injured or killed in car, pedestrian, bicycle, and truck crashes, and by dangerous dogs, unsafe products, and premises. He works tirelessly to obtain the compensation his clients are legally entitled to so they may rebuild their lives with dignity. Tom is the co-author of the book Evidence For The Trial Lawyer, and a much sought-after speaker on personal injury, trial practice, evidence, and professionalism.