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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Bystanders can sue police over chases

Kevin Corcoran writes today in the Indianapolis Star on two of yesterday's ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court:

The Indiana Supreme Court removed all doubt Wednesday: Bystanders injured in high-speed police pursuits can sue police for damages.

In a unanimous decision, the high court's rulings in cases from Indianapolis and Gary rejected claims by government attorneys that law enforcement immunity prohibits nearly all personal-injury lawsuits arising from police chases.

Government attorneys had asserted that before plaintiffs could sue, they had to show police had broken the law or acted with criminal intent when engaging in pursuits or responding to crime reports.

The court reiterated that plaintiffs only need to show police were negligent. Justices said public safety officers owe "a duty of driving with reasonable care" when chasing suspects or responding to crime reports.

Justice Brent Dickson, writing for the court, said bystanders have been able to sue since 1993 as a result of another lawsuit involving the Indianapolis Police Department. He also wrote that a Supreme Court case seven years ago did not reverse that ruling, as government attorneys argued.

Attorneys for the government had said conflicts between state law and court rulings had created an atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding chase lawsuits.
Under state law, government workers cannot be held liable for losses resulting from activities related to their jobs. But the Supreme Court reiterated Wednesday that police negligence opens the door to lawsuits.
T
he justices upheld Marion Superior Court Judge David J. Dreyer's decision last year to reject claims by attorneys for Indianapolis that officers involved in a 50-second chase in 1999 were not liable for a bystander's injuries because the law prohibited chase-related lawsuits. * * *

The outcome of the Indianapolis court case now hinges on whether the evidence shows police were negligent. City and police officials had hoped the court would dismiss the personal-injury lawsuit, which was filed by Richard Garman, 28, a former Indianapolis resident. A driver fleeing police hit Garman's car during a chase that reached 80 mph.

The Indianapolis case is City of Indianapolis and Indianapolis Police Department v. Richard Garman, the Gary case is Jeffrey Patrick, City of Gary & City of Gary Police Department v. Richard Miresso. Access yesterday's ILB entry here.

See earlier ILB entries on these decisions here (8/25/05) and here (2/19/06).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 15, 2006 07:47 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions