We all understand the need to call the sheriff, city police, or state police if we are involved in a serious accident on a motorcycle, or while driving a car, or truck.* But, who do you call and what can you do if the collision was caused by a local police officer or WV state trooper?
Every year accidents and injury are caused by police officers while in the line of duty. In a recent West Virginia auto collision, a motorcyclist was clipped by a police cruiser in pursuit of another motorist, causing substantial injury to the rider.
It was an unintended collision, and the policeman was just doing his job, but this injured biker now is suffering from injuries, medical bills, lost wages, and may be facing surgery and therapy in the future to gain a more full recovery after the accident. This is all going to be very expensive. Who is going to pay?
Can I sue a police officer, police department, state agency, or city for damages?
Even if the police officer was on-duty, the standard of care the officer must abide by is the same as any other citizen, except when the officer is in pursuit of another individual. In the latter circumstance, the rules for the operation of his motor vehicle change to allow him to exceed posted speed limits and the like. However, the officer is not permitted to disregard the safety of other motorists.
When a public employee causes a motor vehicle collision, there are special laws that govern the liability of the State and political subdivisions. Generally, state agencies such as the Department of Highways are immune from civil lawsuits except in certain circumstances. When a public agency or political subdivision can be sued, the claim is limited to a modest insurance coverage limit. When a police officer causes a collision, it must be determined whether the police department is insured under the State policy. So, an officer can be sued, but there will likely be a limit of insurance coverage available.
What type of damages can be recovered after a car or motorcycle accident?
Accident victims can be compensated for economic damages: actual dollar losses such as medical bills, lost wages, and lost future income earning ability. Pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and grief over the loss of a loved one are some of the non-economic losses for which a person may receive compensation. Punitive damages are also awarded in rare cases which serve to punish a defendant for extreme negligence and serve to deter future similar conduct by that defendant and others (such as in a NC case where the police officer caused a collision due to road rage incident).
Recently another lawsuit was filed in WV wherein a man is suing the West Virginia State Police for injuries he sustained in a car accident caused by one of its state troopers.
A West Virginia State Trooper negligently struck the front left side of the plaintiff’s vehicle and caused him to veer off the road and strike an electric pole. The plaintiff claims as a result of the defendant’s negligence and carelessness, he sustained damages and injuries, including broken ribs, a permanent back injury, medical expenses, loss of earning capacity and loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering.
In Indiana, top-tier personal injury attorney William Hurst has been involved in many cases where a police officer’s negligence caused a motor vehicle accident, killing or seriously injuring a client or client’s family member. In his blog, he outlines the special difficulties in bringing suit against police officers such as partial “waivers” of the sovereign immunity to allow the State, Cities, etc. to be sued for personal injury when their employees caused injury but have imposed restrictions and limitations as who can be sued and what an injured party can recover.
West Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys
Because of the complexity involved in crashes directly involving police vehicles, it is imperative you contact an experienced personal injury attorney to find all applicable insurance coverage and have an advocate on your side to fight for your right to compensation for your injuries.
If you have questions about a West Virginia road incident, Attorney Jeff Robinette would be glad to answer your questions. Call today: 304-594-1800 or after hours 304-216-6695.
* West Virginia accident law states the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or total property damage to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more shall immediately by the quickest means of communication, give notice of such crash to the local police department if such crash occurs within a municipality, otherwise to the office of the county sheriff or the nearest office of the West Virginia State Police.