Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 24, 2020

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Police departments have very specific protocols dealing with high speed police chases, (also called hot pursuits) because they are dangerous. Operating a law enforcement vehicle in a pursuit situation exposes the officer, the suspect, and the public to an extremely high degree of danger as well as risk of injury. The point of having these protocols is to make sure pedestrians and other drivers on the road are reasonably safe while still maintaining the public safety by not allowing criminals to get away.

The driver of the vehicle that hit your husband, particularly if it was the criminal being chased, is likely liable for your husband’s death. However, if the car that struck your husband was the one being driven by the person being pursued, you may not have much of a chance of recovering any significant damages against that person. No matter how high a damage award you receive, if the person is unable to pay it, you will be in the same position as if you had not been awarded damages.

However, if the police were not following their protocol or if the chase was pursued when it was clear that pedestrians would be placed in danger, the police department may also share in the liability. Their defense would be that the use of emergency lights and sirens were sufficient to have warned your husband of the danger present. However, many jurisdictions have found that the police need to constantly evaluate the danger inherent in a high speed chase and discontinue the chase if that danger becomes unreasonable.

Finally, the officer who instituted the chase may also share in the liability personally. This is rare because many jurisdictions give the officer immunity if his actions are found to be within the scope of his employment. However, if that immunity is not present, either because it is not permitted by law or because the officer’s actions were so grossly negligent as to overcome any immunity, you would be able to sue the officer individually.

Your own state might be an avenue to find some relief. The federal government gives states grants via the 1984 Victims of Crime Act to provide various services for crime victims, ranging from food and shelter to legal aid.

This is a difficult and complex matter. You need your own attorney to sort through it all and determine what parties can be sued.