West Palm Beach police officers who follow proper police pursuit procedures don’t have to worry about civil lawsuits. It is in the best interests of the public when law enforcement officers pursue violent offenders and individuals who are considered a danger to the public. But if a police chase involves a minor offense, such as a traffic violation, the danger involved in the pursuit oftentimes outweighs the need to apprehend the fleeing suspect. When someone is seriously injured or killed in this type of pursuit, a civil action may arise… this was the case last week in West Palm Beach.
The Palm Beach Post reported a Michigan woman whose 24-year-old son died in a high-speed police pursuit in May 2012 has recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of West Palm Beach. Two years ago, a West Palm Beach police officer in an unmarked car engaged in a high-speed pursuit with the victim for a minor traffic violation. The chase ended when the pursued suspect lost control of his motorcycle, struck a tree, and died.
The lawsuit, filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, claims that the fatal motorcycle crash was the result of the negligence of the overzealous police officer. The plaintiff is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. West Palm Beach officials refused to comment on pending litigation.
In the state of Florida, police departments adopt a restrictive policy that prevents the public from being exposed to risk of severe injuries or death, unless a potentially dangerous police pursuit is justified, such as pursuing a suspect for a violent felony. For non-violent offenses, the dangers involved in the chase generally exceed the danger presented by the suspect. However, the desire of some officers to apprehend even non-violent suspects can sometimes affect their judgment.
While government entities in Florida enjoy sovereign immunity, their immunity from civil lawsuits does not absolutely bar people from making a claim. However, the burden is still upon the plaintiff to establish that the police officer involved in the pursuit transgressed the boundaries of liberties provided by the Florida laws.