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State supreme court expands police liability

Since 1952, police in Kentucky have been immune from lawsuits in the event that a car chase caused death or injury to third parties. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling eliminating this blanket immunity and overturning its 67-year-old decision. The decision allowed a wrongful death lawsuit against two sheriffs for the death of a motorist.

A 62-year-old motorist was killed in 2014 when a suspected drug dealer, being chased by Scott County sheriffs, crashed into his vehicle. His 38-year-old passenger also died months later from injuries she suffered in the fatal car crash. The lawsuit against a sheriff and a deputy was filed by the motorist’s children.

The chase that led to this fatality started with an undercover drug operation. After a drug purchase, a sheriff’s deputy saw the suspect run a red light and pursued him without authorization. After driving into a neighboring county and crashing into the victim’s car, the suspect ran away and was later apprehended in a nearby house. He pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter in 2015 and was sentenced to 17 years imprisonment.

In a 6 to 1 decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of the case, which was based on a decision made in 1952. It pointed out that Kentucky was among a tiny minority of states that gave immunity to police officers. The court also said that an average of 355 people are killed each year in police-related crashes. Almost one-third of these fatalities are in a vehicle that was not involved in the pursuit or are bystanders who are not in a vehicle.

Family members who suffer the loss of a loved one in a fatal accident may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can help them pursue their rights in a lawsuit.

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