Moments or minutes before you possibly hear a siren, a police officer on the patrol has received a call requiring his/her services. On these occasions and in most of the situations – particularly emergencies – the police officer will generally flip on his police lights and siren and speed to the scene. In a minority of cases, the police may be involved in a chase whereby he/she is actually chasing another automobile from the location of a crime. It is in these situations that innocent bystanders, pedestrians, motorists or passengers may injured even though they are not directly involved in the chase.
In fact, this is exactly what happened this past Saturday at approximately 5 p.m. when a police chase involving an Atlanta Police Department officer identified as Joshua Seick, resulted in damages and injuries in Southwest Atlanta to innocent victims at the intersection of Cascade Road and Fairburn Road (a popular and well traveled intersection) in Fulton County, Georgia. The officer had received a call for assistance and was traveling at a high speed when he/she impacted a BMW at, near or in the intersection and subsequently another vehicle containing a mother and her two children inside.
Witnesses report that the force of the impact was so strong that it caused the patrol vehicle to catch fire. The photographs taken at the scene show a police vehicle with extensive front-end damage that shows intrusion into the driver’s area of the vehicle. Ms. Kenyatta White, the mother of the two children, opined that the “…police car came across there too fast and it just happened so fast.” The officer and driver of the BMW were taken to area hospitals with serious injuries.
The question remains…how does the operator of the BMW recover for property damage, bodily injury and pain and suffering against the police officer for the high-speed chase? In Georgia, the answer lies in the Georgia Tort Claims Act, which allows personal injury claims against the government.
Generally speaking, the Georgia Tort Claims Act, O.C.G.A. 50-21-22 et. seq., was enacted by the legislature to prevent the State of Georgia from being sued in its own courts or any other Courts without its consent. This law that reflects that the State of Georgia is a sovereign entity was recognized in State Bd. Of Educ. V. Drury, 263 Ga. 49 (1993). However, this sovereign immunity is waived in certain circumstances for actions brought in the state courts of Georgia for state officers and employees who acted in their official duties and employment as spelled out in the Act. This Act also only applies to the State and not to County or City police officers.
As to officers and employees of the state who have participated in high-speed car chases, the Supreme Court of Georgia has eroded the ability of the state to hide behind the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The judge will determine from the acts if a waiver of immunity should be provided by analyzing the facts of the chase, the state officers actions and policies and procedures of the state. If the judge waives immunity, then such immunity is waived to the extent of any insurance coverage.
Likewise, Georgia law also recognizes the waiver of sovereign immunity of county/city employees/officers for damages or injuries caused by the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle under O.C.G.A. § 36-92-2. The county and city plan in advance for this contingency by purchasing insurance coverage that would insure such incidents and the waiver of sovereign immunity is waived up to the amount of the specific insurance coverage.
In this particular situation, Officer Joshua Seick was an employee of the City of Atlanta and was acting within his official duties and employment as a police officer of the City of Atlanta at the time of the high-speed chase and collisions. Consequently, Officer Seick enjoys the protection of Sovereign Immunity as a city employee in Georgia. However, this protection is waived to the extent that the motorist of the BMW and other passengers/motorists can prove that Officer Seick was negligent in his use of his police vehicle and up to the amount of insurance coverage that the City of Atlanta has purchased on Officer Seick’s behalf.
The witness testimony will probably indicate that Officer Seick was traveling at speed excessive for conditions then existing, failed to yield to innocent motorists and failed to exercise due care in operating his vehicle. Consequently, innocent folks sustained damages to their vehicles and their bodies. Additionally, I know that the City of Atlanta has purchased insurance coverage to cover city police officers and their vehicles. As a result, these motorists and passengers should be able to pursue claims against Officer Seick for their damages.
If you or a loved one has been the innocent victim of a high speed car chase by a city, county or state employee and has sustained bodily injuries and damages, then you have a right to be compensated for your pain and suffering and damages. It is of utmost importance to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who is familiar with the Georgia Tort Claims Act as well as other state laws regarding the negligent conduct of the police officer, to document and preserve evidence and present your claim in a competent and timely fashion.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting car collision cases caused by high-speed car chases throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of the negligence of a negligent driver, then please contact us today for a free consultation and evaluation of your case. We have over 20 years experience and practice throughout the State of Georgia and can come to you. Please call 404-869-6969 or use our toll free number (855) LAW-FORD to secure your rights today!