You've probably seen high-speed police chases on television, YouTube or maybe in person while driving on Cook County roads. Can police officers and cities be held accountable when there's a crash? Officers are government employees protected largely from liability claims while enforcing the law.
If a civilian was racing through Chicago traffic and caused a fatal accident, the victim's family could pursue a wrongful death claim. A liability action for the same behavior by a police officer might not succeed, due to government as well as government worker protection under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act.
Chicago police sped after a shooting suspect last summer. Authorities were certain the driver of the vehicle they were chasing had just committed a violent crime. Police had heard gunshots and attempted to stop the suspect without success.
Two officers set off after the 34-year-old driver, who allegedly disposed of a weapon as he was driving through the city drunk, without stopping at red lights. The suspect's car blew through a West Side intersection and crashed into three vehicles - a bus, an SUV and a car. Eight people were hospitalized. The driver of that car died.
Three liability lawsuits have been filed since the mid-July pursuit and fatality. The most recent claim was filed by a pair of passengers in the same car with the woman who lost her life. The complaint blames the suspect being chased, now a felony murder defendant, for negligence and the City of Chicago for the pursuing officers' willful and wanton conduct.
The deceased victim's daughter had filed a wrongful death case the same month she lost her 35-year-old mother. Last month, three other accident victims filed a complaint against the same defendants, plus one of the officers who participated in the chase.
In an Illinois police pursuit case, a plaintiff and his or her attorney must show that an officer's actions - and, by extension, the government's - consciously disregarded the safety of others.
Source: 89 WLS, "Third suit filed over police chase that ended in fatal crash" No author given, Jan. 12, 2014