What to Do When You’re T-Boned by a Cop Car

by annbailey on August 21, 2013

Motor vehicle collisions are the most common cause of fatal injuries suffered by law enforcement officers on the job. While some of these collisions arise when suspects assault officers with their vehicles, most fatalities occur as a result of negligence on the part of some party. In many cases, this party is the officer himself or herself. Officers who drive in a manner that endangers the public and causes collisions may not evade liability by virtue of their professions.

Police Officers and Motor Vehicle Collisions

There is little hard data available concerning how frequently police officers become involved in non-fatal collisions. Foremost among these issues is the fact that not every accident will be reported; with assistance from a car accident lawyer in Tampa Florida, for instance, you’ll find that Florida only requires notifying law enforcement if property damage exceeds $500 or if anyone is injured or killed. Additionally, law enforcement officers who are heading to or from work or who are not presently on duty but are “on call” may or may not be classified as law enforcement officers in such statistics.

Limited data is available on collisions that occur in which officers are fatally injured. A 2011 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyzed data from the Fatal Accident Reporting System and determined that from 1980 to 2008, 772 collisions occurred involving 776 police vehicles and 552 non-police vehicles. Those collisions led to 823 officers fatally injured and 71 civilians killed.

These figures do not take into account collisions in which police officers were not fatally injured. The actual number of collisions involving injuries to citizens or their property is likely much higher. The data does indicate that the vast majority of collisions serious enough to inflict a fatal injury upon an officer involved a collision with another vehicle. Identifying how these collisions occur is important.

Law Enforcement and Accident Risk Factors

The aforementioned NHTSA report indicates that the majority of fatal collisions initially occurred as a result of an impact with another vehicle that was “in-transport.” Of the collisions that occurred with motor vehicles under such circumstances, 57.3 percent of collisions occurred at an angle while 24.2 percent occurred as a result of a head-on collision. Most of these fatal collisions involved some type of evasive act followed by a frontal impact.

This data underlies some of the potential hazards that can be posed to and by law enforcement officers engaged in the performance of their duties. On-duty police officers must respond to calls based upon a priority system. Each type of call will warrant a particular type of response. Most departments use a “Code” or “Priority” system ranging from one to three different levels. Violent crimes in progress warrant high-priority responses with lights, sirens, and high speeds; property crimes not in progress often warrant low-priority responses that require officers to adhere to local traffic laws.

Of particular concern is what most departments refer to as the “Code 2” or “Priority 2” response. This form of response is to urgent calls for service that either do not require or preclude the use of lights and sirens. This commonly results in officers running red lights, traveling at high rates of speed, and performing other potentially hazardous acts without any visual or auditory warning to the public that the officer is driving in an unusual manner. Without such warnings, innocent motorists can pull out in front of officers or suffer an impact when the officer fails to yield the right of way.

If You are Involved in a Collision with a Law Enforcement Officer…

The steps to take immediately after being involved in an automobile accident with a law enforcement officer are the same steps that one would take after any other accident. Drivable vehicles should be cleared from the roadway, as obstructing lanes will cause unnecessary traffic hazards. If the vehicle is a marked unit, obtain the number of the unit; this number can usually be found on the quarter panels or fenders. If the vehicle is an unmarked law enforcement vehicle, write down its license plate.

Begin by determining whether any parties are injured. If so, obtain medical assistance for those victims. Medical attention may be required if the collision was severe even if no party is complaining about specific pains, as latent and potentially life-threatening injuries may be present. Ask the officer to contact an ambulance if he or she is able to do so. If the officer is too injured to make such a call or if the officer’s equipment is disabled, call 9-1-1 and request assistance.

At the scene, document the accident to the best of your ability. Take photographs of the vehicles, the street surface, any traffic lights, and any intersections involved. Identify witnesses and attempt to get their information, if possible. Obtain the officer’s name, badge number, and his or her employer. Ensure that your statement is reflected accurately in the police report.

After the accident, visit a physician even if you believe that you may not have been injured. Experiencing muscle pain and fatigue after an accident is common. This relatively minor pain can mask serious injuries like broken bones and nerve damage, allowing the injuries to become aggravated.

The final step is to contact an attorney with experience in handling litigation arising from automobile accidents. Recovering damages from the officer personally is extremely unlikely; officers have qualified immunity for actions taken while acting within the course and scope of their employment. Municipalities will generally ignore parties who are not represented by legal counsel, making recovery without an attorney difficult.

Ann Bailey encourages anyone involved in an accident, even with a police vehicle, to be inspected by licensed and qualified medical personnel, as these potentially dangerous injuries can be identified and a treatment regimen can begin. Contacting a car accident lawyer in Tampa Florida or whichever city you’re in is the next step, and one such as Williams Law Association, P.A. can help direct you how to proceed to file for and recover needed compensation for any injuries or property damage suffered.

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