Some motor vehicle accidents create situations where liability may not be obvious. In most U.S. states, including South Carolina, negligence laws have adapted to account for the possibility of multiple parties being partially at fault, and all experiencing different kinds of losses.
Local news for the Charleston, South Carolina area reported on a vehicle chase that involved both police and civilian drivers, leaving two people dead.
Police in Berkeley County are involved in a fatal chase
The incident happened on Interstate Highway 26 westbound, near exit 199 in Berkeley County. Deputies with the local sheriff’s department were engaged in a chase with a four door Mitsubishi vehicle. The suspect’s vehicle suddenly attempted to get off of the highway and onto the Nexton Parkway. At this time, the suspect was unable to control the vehicle as it was on the ramp, and it started to flip over. A corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol later confirmed that the Mitsubishi overturned entirely, killing both occupants.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol said that they will take over the investigation with their Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team to try to find more answers related to the fatalities and police pursuit. The identities of The two people who died were not released to the public.
The local police did not initially release any specific information regarding why the two people in the car were being chased by officers. However, Berkeley County’s Chief Deputy later said that officers suspected the vehicle of driving recklessly, which triggered the incident. No further explanation was given.
Who is responsible for these deaths?
This situation brings up some complexities of negligence and civil accident laws because it would seem that both reckless driving by the victim and the police decision to pursue the vehicle were contributing factors in the accident. Most states have amended their negligence laws over the last several decades to account for situations where multiple parties involved in a motor vehicle accident may all bear some responsibility.
The history of comparative and contributory negligence
Most states in the U.S. started out with a doctrine called contributory negligence. This meant that if a plaintiff was found to be even one percent at fault by a jury, they would not be able to collect any money from a defendant person or business, regardless of the severity of their injuries. Because this doctrine produced absurd results where people who were seriously hurt or killed were left without any kind of remedy at all, some states adopted a set of rules called comparative negligence.
A state that uses pure comparative negligence to determine who is at fault during an accident lawsuit is much more forgiving to a plaintiff, as the total amount of fault can be divided by everyone involved to equal one hundred percent. There is no amount of fault that will prevent the victim from collecting from the defendant. Their damages are only reduced relative to their own fault.
Some states have also used a hybrid of these two. For example, many states now use modified comparative negligence, where the person filing the case cannot have been more than fifty percent at fault, otherwise they have no ability to collect damages.
South Carolina uses a form of negligence where a plaintiff can collect from a defendant in an accident where their fault is less than fifty one percent. This is essentially the hybrid form of negligence that allows victims to be paid for their losses, but not in cases where they are mostly at fault.
Can the police be sued for their involvement?
Police departments around the country generally can be sued for most injuries and mistakes, however they have certain forms of immunity and it is usually more difficult to win a civil case against a government entity. The technical term for immunity for any government entity is sovereign immunity. There are also caps on damages allowed when the government is the defendant, which may prevent a plaintiff from collecting the same amount of money that they would receive in a normal civil case.
The need for a seasoned accident lawyer
Because of the complexities in finding out who is at fault in a multiple vehicle accident and bringing a case against several people, it is important to hire an attorney with experience and expertise in these matters. Comparative negligence and determining damages are two of the more complex areas of the civil law. For this reason, it is essentially to choose a lawyer who can explain these concepts clearly and apply them to your personal situation.
Speak with a local attorney who handles personal injury cases
There is a local law firm that focuses their entire practice on injury lawsuits to get their clients the best results. To get more information about filing a lawsuit related to any kind of motor vehicle accident, contact the Clekis Law Firm.