A recent article about a crash caused by a police car chase piqued my interest as a Pembroke Pines auto accident lawyer. WFOR (CBS4) here in Broward County reported Sept. 21 that an older man who was hit by the police car has recovered enough to speak to the media, and he is not happy. Richard Sanzare, 78, told the station he has a broken arm and wrist, staples and stitches in his head, trouble moving and pain. His wife, Dorothy, remains in the intensive care unit at a Broward County hospital. Police Officer George Law suffered neck and back injuries and was in stable condition.
According to the article, Law was chasing a motorcyclist believed to have a gun. Witnesses and Sanzare say that Law was driving very fast without using his siren or lights; a Fort Lauderdale Police spokesperson said he couldn’t confirm that. During the chase, the Sanzares entered northbound I-95 at the Oakland Park Drive entrance and was hit by Law’s police vehicle. The crash caused the couple’s vehicle to roll over; Law’s car ran off the road and hit a tree. Despite the crash, the police spokesperson said Law is still on duty while the incident is investigated. Sanzare said he was upset that a police representative hadn’t stopped by to apologize; he told the station he was planning a lawsuit.
As a Plantation car crash attorney, I happen to know that Sanzare has a complicated road ahead if he does file a legal claim. Suing any government agency is difficult, but there are special rules laid out in Florida law for suing a police agency over injuries sustained in a car chase. Police agencies may not be sued for such injuries if the officers:
- were not behaving in a way “so reckless or wanting in care as to constitute disregard of human life, human rights, safety, or the property of another.”
- reasonably believed they were chasing someone guilty of committing a forcible felony, as defined here
- were acting pursuant to their department’s written policy on high-speed pursuits, and had received training on the policy.
It’s impossible to say from the article whether Law was following his department’s car chase policy or reasonably believed the suspect had committed a forcible felony. However, if the witnesses are right that Law was speeding without using his sirens or lights, I believe Sanzare’s Fort Lauderdale car wreck lawyer could make a compelling case that he was acting with reckless disregard for safety. As I have noted here before, speeding is a common cause of car crashes. In fact, emergency vehicles have lights and sirens specifically to tell other drivers that they should get out of the way because a speeding vehicle is coming. A jury could reasonably decide that failure to use those tools met the requirements of the law, by being unnecessarily and predictably dangerous.
Cohn, Smith & Cohn represents people throughout South Florida who were seriously hurt in a car crash caused by someone else’s negligence. Most of the time, that means a civilian driver who made irresponsible decisions — but when police officers and other government officials are careless, the government may not be immune. In a lawsuit, crash victims can claim all of the financial costs of the accident, including costs like lost future income as well as hospital, funeral and repair bills. They may also claim compensation for the personal costs of the accident, such as a permanent disability, chronic pain or the unexpected loss of a loved one. For many families, that money is badly needed after the unexpected accident cuts off a source of income, drains their savings and throws them into a state of financial uncertainty.
Cohn, Smith & Cohn offers free, confidential consultations to all potential clients. If you’ve been hurt in an auto accident and you’d like to learn more, please contact us today to set one up, at (954) 431-8100 or through our Web site.