Despite many tragic stories of innocent bystanders being injured or killed by a vehicle engaged in a high speed police chase in the Kansas City area, there's not much victims can do to hold the responsible parties accountable.
Because the police have broad powers to carry out their duties to prevent and punish criminal acts, they're often untouchable when it comes to seeking justice for innocent victims. While someone can seek damages from the driver being pursued at the time of the crash, she's unlikely to be successful in suing a police officer, his department, or the municipality that employs him.
How Bad Is the Problem?
It’s not clear just how many innocent people are injured or killed in high speed police chases each year. Statistics on this occurrence aren't gathered in a consistent manner across the country.
According to an investigative story published 2015 in The Kansas City Star, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 333 people were killed during police pursuits. Many believe that number leaves out at least 100 additional fatalities related to police chases. There's not a formal system for tracking the number of crashes or injuries nationwide each year.
According to NHTSA statistics, there were 127 deaths in Missouri and 47 in Kansas related to police high-speed chases between 2003 and 2013.
In the Kansas City area, data on police crashes is collected in Kansas but not in Missouri. On the Kansas side of the city, there were 558 pursuit-related crashes between 2003 and 2013, including 13 deaths and over 300 injuries. The data that is available from Missouri indicates that there were as many as 148 crashes in the same 10-year period, but no additional data is available.
No Consistent Policy
Perhaps because of the lack of consistent data documenting the dangers of high-speed chases, police agencies across Kansas and Missouri lack a standard policy for when a police officer should and should not pursue a suspect.
Sometimes, officers follow suspects across multiple county lines, regardless of the policies for high-speed chases in those jurisdictions. When innocent people are injured or killed in these chases, it can be difficult to know who is responsible for compensating the victims.
Following the tragic deaths of two innocent victims in separate crashes in 2014, the Kansas City, Kansas, (KCK) police department enacted a policy later that year to only pursue suspects who had already committed a serious felony.
However, in June 2017, the KCK revised that policy, pledging to pursue anyone fleeing the police as long as there is probable cause. This change was the result of a spike in crime caused in part, according to KCK, by suspects knowing they wouldn't be chased if they fled.
Police Are Usually Protected from Prosecution
A police officer must be able to do what he feels is necessary to protect the public. That's his duty. However, when an officer pursues a fleeing suspect through busy city streets at high speeds, running stop signs and red lights, he's not protecting the public by catching a criminal:
He's putting the public in danger of a high-speed collision. The police argue—and the Supreme Court has agreed—they cannot fulfill their duties to protect the public if they cannot pursue criminals.
Whether the victim is hit by the fleeing suspect or the pursuing police car, the question is: who's at fault? Courts often reach the conclusion that—no matter which car hits you—it's the suspect who's to blame because by committing a crime or fleeing from the police, he initiated the chase. However, the family of an innocent victim may argue the police officer shouldn't have continued the chase once it became dangerous to bystanders. This argument, while valid, isn't often successful in being awarded compensation from police departments or municipalities.
Our Accident Attorneys Will Steer You in the Right Direction
If you or a loved one was injured in a police chase, schedule a consultation with the accident attorneys in our Overland Park office. We'll look at the facts of your case and help you decide what to do. We stand by victims, but won't send you on a wild goose chase.