Liability in Police Chases

The Third Circuit issued an opinion in Jewel v. Ridley Township involving an issue that I find interesting: to what extent do police have an obligation to show restraint in a police chase?
In Jewel, police heard an eighteen-year-old boy was drunk. Based upon previous arrests, the police knew the boy did not have a driver’s license. They found the boy and chased him with lights and sirens, all parties ignoring stop signs and red lights like they do on television. The boy, who was drunk, collided with a car and as a result, he became paralyzed. No matter how you slice it, this is a tragedy.

The trial court granted the town and the police officers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the pursuit policy was not constitutionally inadequate. This was a no brainer, right? The court also found that the police did not chase plaintiff with “deliberate indifference” through its allegedly inadequate training and supervision. This too seems like a silly claim.

Should the police be pursuing drunks in high speed chases? It is, in my opinion, negligent for them to chase like this, but that does not mean this plaintiff should recover, either. I would prefer a law where the plaintiff is barred because his own negligence was the primary cause of the accident, not because “deliberate indifference” is required. I do, however, think it is fair to say that the court got the result right in this tragic case.

You can find the full opinion in Jewel v. Ridley Township here.

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