What happens if a police officer causes an accident in Georgia?

 

Getting into an accident with ordinary motorists is already a very unpleasant thing to go through. So imagine how significantly more complicated it gets when it’s an on-duty police officer who caused the mishap.

If you think it’s not a common occurrence, a study shows that police pursuits account for 300 fatalities in the United States each year. That’s an average of more than one fatality per state every week. The study also found that for every one million vehicles driven, police officers nearly double the rate of motor vehicle crashes as the general public. Considering this, and since there is no available data for non-fatal accidents, the numbers are more likely just as unexpectedly significant.

So what happens you find yourself in quite a situation?

Immediately have yourself checked.

The more time passes by before you get checked, the harder it will be to prove that the accident caused by a police officer is what gave rise to your injury. A detailed medical report will be crucial when filing your injury claim against the state or municipality’s insurance.

Take lots of pictures.

Like civilians, police officers are vulnerable to feeling the need to save face by withholding their full knowledge of how the accident came. And because there is a degree of fierce loyalty among them, the one in charge of preparing the accident report is not immune to the misapplication of this allegiance. Not that every investigating officer will lean in favor of the cop/ at-fault driver, but at the very least, they too are humans capable of being biased.

Better safe than sorry. Immediately take out your phone and take pictures of the accident, the vehicles, the cop, the witnesses, etc. Walk around the accident and take photos from every direction. Photograph debris and skid marks on the roadway, photograph your injuries and photograph the damages to your car.

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After gathering essential evidence, complete a police report. That will include giving your information to the police officer, and on that report will be all the information for the other driver. You can access that police report, and it will stand as the most vital piece of information in your claim for compensation.

Upon picking up the police report, request its correction, or add a memorandum clarifying the facts if it turns out to be inaccurate. The police report is not evidence, and it is not the final word. If your statements and supporting documents are convincing, you can prevail.

Can the police even be held liable?

The answer will depend on the circumstances surrounding the accident. What was the police officer doing at the time? The accident they caused may not hold up in court, depending on the context of the situation.  

Typically, a driver who violates traffic laws or drives recklessly can be found negligent and held responsible for damages and injuries arising from an accident.

However, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars are exempted from traffic laws when responding to emergency calls and following the rules prescribed by the state or municipality.

In Georgia, the rules about what the police can and cannot do when pursuing a suspect are outlined in The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A) article §40-6-6(2020):

  • Law enforcement vehicles must slow down to determine if it is safe before running a red light or stop sign;
  • Police can only go faster than the speed limit if they do not put people or property in danger;
  • Law enforcement vehicles can only violate standard traffic regulations in a chase if they use a siren and a flashing or revolving light.

The following factors may also come into play when assigning liability to the police:

  • Did the suspect pose a danger that warranted the chase and put the public at risk?
  • Did police personnel, from officers at the wheel to dispatchers to supervisors, commit a negligent act that contributed to your injury?
  • Did police, at any time, operate without “due regard for the safety of all persons,” as mandated in O.C.G.A. §40-6-6(2020)?

If you can prove a police officer violated any of these rules in your accident, they could be liable for your injuries. Otherwise, a police officer may not be responsible for an accident if they operate an authorized emergency vehicle in response to an emergency and reasonably use lights and sirens.

In addition, under O.C.G.A. §40-6-6(2020), “when a law enforcement officer in a law enforcement vehicle is pursuing a fleeing suspect in another vehicle and the fleeing suspect damages any property or injures or kills any person during the pursuit, the law enforcement officer’s pursuit shall not be the proximate cause of the damage, injury, or death caused by the fleeing suspect.” Simply put, the fleeing suspect is responsible unless the law enforcement officer acts with gross disregard for the safety of others.

Filing a claim

O.C.G.A. §50-21-26(2020) states that “Notice of a claim shall be given in writing within 12 months of the date the loss was discovered or should have been discovered; provided, however, that for tort claims and causes of action which accrued between January 1, 1991, and July 1, 1992, a notice of claim shall be given in writing within 12 months after July 1, 1992.”

Take note of the following details necessary to establish your claim: 1) Your current contact information; 2) a detailed description of the event; 3) the damages and losses you suffered; 4) the names of the person(s) involved or the witnesses; 5) and most especially, a payment request.

If the office denies your claim, you have the right to file a lawsuit. Contact an experienced attorney for help in negotiating the next steps.

What if you’re the one found liable for the accident?

Most police departments are heavily-insured. Suppose you are at fault for the accident, the police department’s insurer may decide to file a claim against your car insurance company for reimbursement for benefits the police department’s insurer paid out, such as repair costs for the police cruiser. 

Regardless of whether the accident was your fault, it would still be better for you to have an attorney by your side to mitigate the financial impact of your liability. Call us!

Even if you believe you have a “sure win” case, you should seriously consider hiring an attorney to represent you when in an accident with a police officer.

Filing a legal claim against your regular Joe is hard enough, but holding the police accountable to compensate you for your injuries and losses is a much more complex, time-consuming task that often leads to a case dismissal if handled poorly. Good thing the skilled and experienced attorneys from Council & Associates will make sure your claim is pursued to the fullest extent. 

Only the finest in Georgia can challenge Georgia’s finest. Call us at (404) 562-8857.

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