What Happens if a Police Car Causes an Accident?

Posted On November 14, 2019 Car Accidents by John Allen Phebus

Law enforcement officers might receive special training to drive their vehicles, but they are still human. They make mistakes, including driving distracted, that can cause car accidents. If a police car causes an accident and injures someone, the victim may be eligible to bring a claim against the officer and/or a law enforcement office in Arizona. Arizona is a fault-based state, meaning the at-fault officer’s insurance company will be responsible for damages. If the officer was negligent or reckless in causing the car accident, he or she could also be civilly liable.

Who Is At Fault for the Accident?

Arizona’s insurance laws require an injured party to identify who caused the crash before filing an insurance claim for damages. The injured person may need to call the police to investigate the accident to determine fault. The police officer involved in the crash has duties just like any other driver. He or she must remain at the scene and phone in the accident if it caused injuries, deaths or property damage over $1,000. The police officer that responds to the scene will investigate and create a report with an official opinion on who was at fault.

The police officer could be at fault for the collision if he or she breached a duty of care as a driver. If the officer was texting and driving, looking down at a phone or laptop, speeding, eating or drinking behind the wheel, or engaging in reckless driving while not performing job-related duties, the officer could bear fault for the collision. If, however, the officer was acting reasonably within the scope of employment or performing job-related duties at the time of the crash, it could be more difficult to prove fault. The police officer may not be at fault if he or she was responding to an emergency and was using lights and sirens.

Proving liability can be difficult in a case against a police officer. The victim or his or her car accident attorney will have to prove the police officer was not responding to an emergency and/or was not reasonably using lights or sirens at the time of the accident. If the officer was on his or her way back from a call and caused a crash, for example, the officer would be at fault. The injured party may need to hire a car accident lawyer in Glendale for assistance proving fault and bringing a claim against the defendant.

Vicarious Liability for Police Officer Car Accidents

When a police officer is at fault for an accident, the employer could be vicariously liable for damages. If the officer was off-duty at the time of the crash, he or she will be individually liable, and the officer’s personal auto insurance will pay for damages. If, however, the officer was on-duty when he or she caused an accident, the larger law enforcement entity the officer worked for could be financially responsible. Employers, including the police force, can be vicariously responsible for the actions and wrongdoings of employees.

If an injured crash victim needs to bring a claim against the Glendale Police Department or the City of Glendale, the case will be against the government. The rules surrounding these cases under Arizona Revised Statute 12-820 are complex. The typical statute of limitations will not apply. The claimant will only have 180 days from the car accident to file a claim in writing with the police department. The initial claim must describe the car accident and injuries, why the filing party believes the officer is at fault, and a dollar amount the victim is claiming.

Going up against a powerful entity such as a police department or the city can be more difficult than a claim against an individual. These parties have resources to spend on disputing liability, as well as aggressive legal teams. Victims involved in car accidents with police cars should hire lawyers to help them build negligence cases against the at-fault officers. A personal injury lawyer will know how to build a claim, bring it by the deadline and fight for fair compensation from the liable party.