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Morgan v. Beaumont Police Dept. – Fatal Car Accident in Police Pursuit

Recently, a high-speed chase by police tailing a fugitive through the streets of Miami spanned more than a half hour until the suspect was caught, according to the Miami Herald. The 34-year-old suspect is charged with attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed his girlfriend numerous times before fleeing. During the chase, he reportedly narrowly avoided striking other vehicles as he weaved through traffic, blew past intersection red lights and skidded with sharp turns. At one point, he exchanged gunfire with police in downtown Miami. 

This scene had a high potential for serious injury or death of innocent bystanders.

Most police agencies have policies that prevent chases Рparticularly high-speed chases Рin all but the most serious of situations. A study by the National Institute of Justice found that most departments had written policies governing pursuits. While increasing the number of vehicles involved in the pursuit was more likely to improve the odds of apprehension, it was also more likely to up the risk of accidents, injuries and property damage. 

Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyers know the question of whether innocent bystanders injured will be able to collect compensation beyond their own personal injury protection (PIP) benefits will depend on a myriad of factors. That’s why these cases must only be trusted to an experienced injury law firm.

The recent case of Morgan v. Beaumont Police Department, weighed by the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division One, is an example of some of the issues that may be raised in such cases.

According to court records, a man suffered fatal injuries when a suspect in a police chase crashed head on into his vehicle. The pursuit reportedly lasted 12 minutes.

Plaintiffs filed a negligence action against the department, alleging wrongful death.

The pursuit started when a traffic officer spotted a pickup truck with a crack in the front windshield and a broken tail light. The officer pulled behind the pickup, called the license plate number into dispatch and activated his lights and sirens. However, instead of stopping, the pickup truck driver kept going.

The officer recorded the encounter on a dashboard camera. The suspect driver blew threw a stop sign. Five minutes into the pursuit, officer lost communication with radio dispatch and called in through his cell phone’s speaker phone.

The pickup truck driver failed to stop at another intersection and then sped up. Driver passed slower-moving vehicles and at one point reached speeds of up to 90 mph. He went through a red light without stopping. Then he went through another stop sign.

It is unclear whether the officer terminated the pursuit seconds before the crash or due to a dust cloud that was created as a direct result of the collision. Plaintiffs contend the pursuit was ended after the collision or at least at the same time.

The occupant of the other vehicle was killed when suspect crossed a double yellow line and struck him head-on.

At issue in the case against the police department was whether the department and/or the officer was negligent or whether they were immune under sovereign immunity statutes.

Trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, concluding they were immune from liability. On appeal, plaintiffs argue this was an error because defendants failed to produce evidence that the vehicle pursuit was carried out according to policy and/or that the agency had provided proper training to officers under that policy.

The appeals court was persuaded by this argument, reversing the trial court’s decision and allowing the car accident claim to proceed to trial.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Morgan v. Beaumont Police Department, April 4, 2016, California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division One

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Report: Car Insurance Costlier for Renters, Feb. 24, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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