Liability in Police Chase Crashes
On November 6, a wild police chase from San Marcos to New Braunfels ended in a serious collision that wound up injuring five, including three small children. A man had been accused of stalking a woman in San Marcos, and when he was approached by law enforcement, he ran, eventually winding up in a serious collision with two cars just inside the New Braunfels city limits.
While no one was killed, as of this writing, the man and one of the young children involved in the accident remain in the hospital with serious injuries. Such accidents raise multiple questions about liability and how to handle a case with potential criminal repercussions as well as civil issues.
Are the Police Liable?
Given that three small children were injured in this accident, it is fairly standard for the parents to at least explore the possibility of whether or not the San Marcos or New Braunfels Police Departments might be at least partially liable for the injuries, in addition to the accused. While most cases involving auto accidents tend to be between two cars, this involved multiple actors, two of which are municipal entities. Although police officers have more leeway than civilians in breaching traffic laws and other regulations while doing their jobs, sometimes they can be judged to have acted recklessly in the pursuit of a suspect.
The Texas Tort Claims Act states that a “governmental unit” in the state, under which definition a local or municipal police department qualifies, is liable for property damage and personal injury or death “proximately caused by the wrongful act, omission, [or] negligence” of an employee if: (1) they were acting within the scope of their employment; (2) the harm was caused directly resulting from the operation of motor-driven equipment or vehicles; and (3) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant if they were a private individual under Texas law.
If one examines the accident mentioned above, no information available suggests that either police department acted in a way that could be seen as reckless or negligent. However, it is possible in other accidents that this may not be the case, and if so, it is often possible to seek compensation.
The other commonly asked question when one experiences a police-involved auto accident is whether or not any criminal charges will be lodged against one or more of the drivers (either for their role in the accident or for another alleged crime). This is relevant because if criminal and civil proceedings are both able to be brought against the same person, there can be some concern about which set will come first and how it affects your right to seek compensation. Some criminal or civil defendants will try and have the civil case abated (to have it called off), especially if they plan to assert their Fifth Amendment privileges in the criminal case.
Their rationale is that if they are forced to testify in a parallel civil proceeding, their right against self-incrimination in the criminal case will be destroyed because the information will already be out there. However, this often simply does not hold water, because asserting a Fifth Amendment privilege in one case does not permit a blanket refusal to testify in the other under Texas law.
To allow a defendant to simply refuse to testify or provide information to the plaintiff in a civil matter because of a Fifth Amendment claim in the criminal matter would be directly against public policy, which encourages transparency. The long and short of the issue is that most of the time, the court will decide whether or not to continue the civil case or to simply have both proceedings happen concurrently.
Call Our Auto Accident Lawyers Today
While most people are fortunate enough to avoid being in the midst of a police chase and multi-vehicle accident, one never knows when it could happen. If you have been involved in an auto accident with police or with someone being chased by police, enough unique issues may exist for you to need a knowledgeable attorney.
The dedicated New Braunfels auto accident lawyers at The Bettersworth Law Firm will sit down with you and try to help discover where you should go from here. Contact the office today to set up an initial appointment.