A police vehicle hitting you is a perplexing experience. You can be left wondering, What next? Will the law enforcement officer take responsibility? Will they compensate for the accident's costs? The good news is that the government and police can be liable for police auto collisions.

If you are an injured pedestrian, passenger, or driver, you could recover damages for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering. Of course, your next steps after your involvement in the accident impact your chances of recovering compensation. Here is what happens and what you should do after being involved in a road accident with a police vehicle.

The Critical Moments Following The Accident

The one similarity between all automobile accidents, whether it is a police or regular vehicle, is the steps you take right after the collision. Immediately after your crash, ensure you are safe and okay. Check if you have any injuries and remain calm. Do not leave the accident site or make unexpected movements towards the law enforcement officer, as they might interpret that as suspicious.

If you are hurt, inform the officer or call 911 for assistance. Accept medical care and treatment at the accident scene. Otherwise, refusing medical care may bar you from claiming damages later. And even if you are unsure whether you sustained any severe injuries, consider still going for a medical checkup. Most car crash victims discover that they sustained injuries one or two days after the collision.

Do not automatically admit guilt for the accident. Not admitting fault could be more challenging when the party in an accident with you is a police officer, as interacting with them may be intimidating. However, try to keep your responses brief. Remember, it is never the involved law enforcement officer’s job to establish what happened and who is to blame. After reviewing all the presented evidence, the court will decide who is to blame, and its decision is not contingent on a police officer’s single-sided view. So, just compose yourself, knowing you will later have the opportunity to present your case before a judge. 

You also want to collect important evidence after the accident. Possessing evidence and records to help prove the accident occurred and the resulting damage will make it easier for your lawyer to pursue maximum compensation and demonstrate the police officer’s fault. Take photos of the crash scene and the vehicles involved. Ensure to photograph cracked pavements, traffic lights, and any other evidence that may establish fault, such as skid marks on the roadway. Obtain contact details from the witnesses and obtain the insurance and license information of any other parties involved.

The most critical step after a collision with a law enforcement officer is calling an auto accident attorney. Police car collision cases are not usually addressed in the same way as other car crashes. Generally, the law enforcement officer is covered under the city's insurance policy, not the regular car insurance coverage. The insurance claims procedure may differ, and the involved city might take an extended period to assess your case. In this kind of case, you want to have a lawyer by your side to pressure law enforcement to ensure you are fully compensated for your injuries.

Establishing Liability In Accidents Involving Police Car

Generally, liability is established by what party was negligent during a vehicle collision. If a motorist runs a stop sign and strikes another automobile, the party that ran the stop sign could be held liable for the collision. But what would happen if a law enforcement officer were to run a stop sign and hit another party?

Police officers are not immune to responsibility for vehicle collisions in California. They owe the same duties of care as other motorists. Even though they might have more leeway regarding actions like speeding and running red lights, they must do so reasonably and safely within the confines of their work.

Generally, liability for injury claims and lawsuits for victims struck by police vehicles is based on the kind of duty the officer carried out during the accident and how they drove the car. If the officer was determined to act negligently, the injured victim can recover compensation for their injury from the county or city.

A police officer off duty might not have leeway for speeding and running red lights. If a police officer was involved in reckless or negligent conduct during the accident, they may be responsible for damages. Examples of reckless or negligent actions include the following:

  • Speeding with no reason.
  • Distracted driving.
  • Driving while intoxicated.
  • Responding to an emergency without sirens or lights.
  • Making an unlawful U-turn or left-turn.
  • Failing to signal.
  • Wrong-way driving on a one-way street.
  • Failing to yield to other road users.
  • Running a stop sign.
  • Running a red light.

Any negligent driver behavior or action by a law enforcement officer, either off-duty or on-duty, may result in financial liability for an accident. You and your attorney will be required to show that the law enforcement officer was negligent and that their negligent behavior resulted in you suffering injuries and, in turn, damages. A lawyer could assist you with this burden of proof.

Also, ask yourself whether any other party was involved in the accident. Perhaps a drunk motorist was evading the officer and collided with your vehicle. Or, it could be that several other innocent individuals suffered the repercussions of the police car accident, as did you.

There are complicated situations where determining liability is challenging. Your odds of recovering damages depend on what you can demonstrate and the level of experience your attorney has in terms of handling police car accident claims and lawsuits. Factors that affect liability include:

  • Behavior such as running a red light or speeding.
  • Who was breaking the law?
  • Failure to give way to pedestrians or vehicles.
  • Chain-reaction accidents.
  • The weather, road conditions, and visibility.
  • Whether the law enforcement vehicle was explicitly marked and authorized.
  • Whether the law enforcement officer had their sirens and lights on.
  • Whether the law enforcement officer was actively involved in an emergency.

At this stage, it is easy to understand why you require an auto accident injury attorney to assist you in handling your case. You are subject to the bureaucracy of a government agency and a police force that will probably not be willing to pay all the costs. Additionally, you may be dealing with a police officer blaming you for their collision.

Police Exemptions to Traffic Rules

Motorists may be deemed negligent if they violate a traffic rule and cause a collision. However, the state's emergency vehicle exemption exempts emergency cars from the usual traffic rules in given situations.

That said, you may only bring a personal injury claim or lawsuit against a law enforcement officer who hit you if they were not appropriately responding to an emergency when the accident occurred. California VC 21055 provides that law enforcement officers and other first responders are exempt from standard traffic laws and granted leeway if they were responding correctly to emergencies at the time of the accident and were reasonably utilizing the vehicle's sirens and lights.

An emergency entails a police officer doing the following:

  • Driving a fire department auto while traveling from one area to another due to an emergency call.
  • Responding to a fire alarm.
  • Being in the imminent pursuit of a suspected or actual law violator,
  • Engaged in a rescue operation.
  • Responding to an emergency alert or call.

A cop should not claim they do not have to comply with the laws merely because they are a law enforcement officer. Also, it does not count as an emergency where the law enforcement officer is returning from an emergency scene or is operating their personal vehicle in the absence of an emergency.

Note that this rule only applies if the police officer was properly utilizing the car’s sirens and lights during the collision. Using lights and a siren warns other motorists that an emergency vehicle is approaching and that they should pull over if possible. Nevertheless, in certain instances, an emergency car is not mandated to sound sirens. For example, based on local regulations, some emergency cars do not sound sirens at night or when passing through neighborhoods.

A police officer must prove three primary things if they wish to defend against allegations of fault and demonstrate that they were not required to adhere to a certain traffic law:

  • They were driving an emergency automobile during the accident.
  • They were responding to an emergency, and
  • They were utilizing front red warning lights and a siren when reasonably necessary.

Even if the law enforcement officer meets all the above three elements, they could be considered liable for the collision. Under the state's negligence statutes, reckless vehicle operation in a manner that any prudent and reasonable law enforcement officer would not drive under the same circumstances could result in accountability for damages.

Failure to comply with the legal duty of care while driving constitutes negligence or recklessness. The standard duty of care mandates motorists, including law enforcement officers, to:

  • Appropriately watch out for other road users.
  • Utilize reasonable care while driving.
  • Look out for other vehicles and obstacles on the road.
  • Control the movement and speed of the auto.

Failure to do the above could lead to a police officer being responsible for a road user's wrongful death or injuries. For example, a police officer may fail to uphold their legal duty of care by openly speeding past a school area full of pupils or not watching out for pedestrians. Negligence matters significantly as a factor in determining liability.

Suing for Damages In Police Car Accidents

Per 17001 VC, a public agency is responsible for injury or death to an individual or property inflicted by a reckless driver or omission or wrongful action in driving any car by the public agency’s employee acting in the confines of their job.

That means that when a law enforcement officer is operating a patrol vehicle or driving during the discharge of their duties and causes a collision, the public agency is responsible for the injured party's damages. Based on the police agency, the county, city, or state could be responsible for paying for damages arising from the collision.

That said, you want to talk to an experienced car accident personal injury lawyer if you trust that a law enforcement officer recklessly or negligently hit you. You might have the basis to file a suit against the county or state government. As the police officer’s employer, the government may be responsible for your injuries if the law enforcement officer was on duty when the accident happened. You and your attorney must submit a written notice within six months of your crash to bring a lawsuit against the government in California.

If an off-duty officer knocked you down, you might still have the basis to file a lawsuit with their personal insurance provider. The reckless or negligent law enforcement officer may be individually responsible for your property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and other losses. A lawyer can assist you with filing requirements for either form of claim. You may qualify for a significant compensation value after a law enforcement car knocks you down in California.

The possible damages recoverable in a severe collision can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more. Special and general compensatory damages may include:

  • Lost earnings—if the injuries from the accident made you miss going to work, you could recover lost earnings. If the injuries have prevented you from resuming your work, you could qualify for damages for lost future earning capacity or compensation for permanent disability.
  • Medical expenses—You can recover hospital stays, emergency department visits, physical therapy, surgeries, and follow-up care expenses.
  • Pain and suffering—you could recover compensation for severe physical pain and emotional trauma, anxiety, and stress. If the crash left you with disfigurement, permanent scars, or a lost limb, you can seek compensation as well.
  • Property damage—you can recover compensation to cover the costs of damage to your car (if you were driving at the time of the collision) or any other personal property injured in the accident.

Other damages include lost companionship, lost consortium, mental anguish, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim In Police Car Accidents

Per wrongful death statutes, a family member can sue the public agency after their loved one's death. If a spouse, child, or parent dies in a collision with a law enforcement vehicle, the family members can hold the negligent party responsible for damages. Wrongful death claims or lawsuit damages include burial expenses, funeral costs, lost wages the dead victim would have continued to earn, lost consortium, lost companionship, et cetera.

Will a Police Car Accident Limit Compensation?

Here is a heads-up that the involvement of a police officer in an accident may limit the compensation amount you recover. As mentioned, California has established special laws regulating the guilt of public officials, such as law enforcement officers.

Usually, police officers are immune from civil lawsuits to some extent. That means it is extremely critical to determine from the beginning whether the officer involved in the crash is a state worker.

Even if suing the officer is possible, your capability to recover full compensation is based on the applicable context. You may successfully file a lawsuit against a small town or city for its police officer causing an accident. However, your compensation amount may be small, as several others may claim a percentage of the same damages. Or, you could come across a judge sympathetic to law enforcement officers and not to you.

These instances show the significance of hiring a skilled personal injury attorney to fight for you. The right attorney can assist you in standing up to the government and police, proving why you should obtain the maximum compensation possible for a law enforcement car knocking you down.

Statutes of Limitations

If you wish to pursue damages after an accident involving a police vehicle, you need to understand the statute of limitations for filing your personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. In other personal injury cases, California permits two years to bring a lawsuit for death or injury and three years to file a property damage claim. However, you have only six months if you are suing a government agency, for example, in the case of a police car accident, and you need to ensure you provide all the necessary information.

The clock for the statute of limitations starts ticking on the date of the death or injury or on the date your property was damaged. Should the statute of limitations expire before bringing your case, you may be incapable of recovering compensation.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

After your accident with a police car, call the lawyers at Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney. We handle several areas of personal injury law, including emergency vehicle and police car accidents. We understand that after the accident, you will want to concentrate on healing from the injuries, and understandably so. We will give you ample time to recover while we tackle all the legal matters. We genuinely care about police car accident victims in California. Call us today at 424-231-2013 for a consultation.