The City of Ocoee faces a possible lawsuit after a police officer sped through an intersection at over 90 mph and slammed into a civilian’s car.
Although there is some confusion about the details, officers were apparently pursuing a vehicle that resembled one used in an earlier Altamonte Springs armed robbery on Orange Blossom Trail. As officers pursued the suspects through the intersection of Orange Blossom Trail and Holden Avenue, 29-year-old Officer Chris Bonner accelerated through a red light and practically T-boned 26-year-old Yahaira Castro Montalvo. Both cars then spun out of control; the squad car eventually crashed into a fire hydrant. Both drivers were rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. At a subsequent press conference, the victim and her attorney said that they are mulling legal action.
Officer Bonner was cited for failure to obey traffic laws, and the Ocoee Police Department may conduct its own inquiry, because department policy is that the intersection must be “clear” before officers enter it, even when they are operating in emergency mode.
The suspect vehicle got away, according to police.
About one in 100 such incidents involve at least one fatality, because for people who are used to walking a thin line, deciding when to pursue and when to back off is one of the most difficult decisions that officers face. Although officers certainly have a right to do their jobs and apprehend wrongdoers, they also have an obligation to protect public safety. Even though they may never publicly admit it, many officers enjoy the tremendous adrenaline rush that comes during high speed chases, so these incidents are probably here to stay.
Victims in these cases basically have two ways to establish liability:
- Extreme Recklessness: There is always a risk-reward analysis in these cases. If police pursue over a nonviolent offense during the day in a busy area, the chase could arguably involve a reckless disregard for the safety and property of others. But the above chase took place in the pre-dawn hours and, given the violent nature of the alleged offense, vehicle description, and the suspect vehicle’s initial flight, officers at least had some basis for their chase.
- Policy Violation: Not many police departments have restrictive chase policies, but if the officer clearly violated the policy, as may have been the case here, such disregard is evidence of negligence.
If the victim sustained a permanent injury, and “permanent” is very broadly defined, compensation may include both economic damages, like lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages may also be available, in some cases.
Florida has expressly waived its sovereign immunity in these cases, and government officials, including police officers, can be held liable in court if their actions or inactions would have triggered liability for private citizens. Certain special procedures, including very strict time deadlines, must normally be followed in these cases.
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A badge does not confer blanket immunity from negligence suits. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, contact Reed & Reed. From our office in Brandon, Reed & Reed helps clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, East Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida.