A woman was killed and her 20-month-old child was critically injured after an August 26, 2009 San Francisco car accident, which was the result of a police chase. The fatal car crash occurred in Oakland, California, on West and 18th streets when a man driving an Acura Integra, who was fleeing in a police chase, struck the woman’s car. According to an ABC news report, Oakland police officials were trying to stop the suspect because he had been speeding. Investigators say the suspect ran through a stop sign and slammed into the woman’s black Hyundai Accent.
The impact was so strong that it reportedly pushed the Hyundai for about a block. It’s not yet clear whether police were trying to stop the suspect for something other than speeding. An internal investigation is underway to determine whether the officers followed the Oakland Police Department’s pursuit policy. The suspect has been arrested.
My heart goes out to the family of the deceased victim for their tragic and heartbreaking loss. I offer my deepest condolences to them. I also hope and pray the critically injured child makes and quick and complete recovery. Please keep this family in your prayers.
California Car Accident Laws
California law provides immunity to police departments that have adopted a “vehicle pursuit policy.” California Vehicle Code Section 17004 states: “A public agency employing peace officers that adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicular pursuits … is immune from liability for civil damages for personal injury to or death of any person or damage to property resulting from the collision of a vehicle being operated by an actual or suspected violator of the law who is being, has been, or believes he or she is being or has been, pursued in a motor vehicle by a peace officer employed by the public entity.”
The critical question in this California car accident is why exactly did the Oakland police get involved in a high-speed chase, which clearly endangered the public? Did the suspect commit any crime other than speeding on the roadway? Did the end justify the means?
Was Public Safety At Risk?
Based on the law, it would seem that the Oakland Police Department is immune from liability because they have a written policy. They don’t have to prove that their officers have read or received training pertaining to their pursuit policy. That said, was this fair to the family of the woman and to that young child, who has suffered critical injuries? Speeding on a public roadway is an infraction and a relatively minor traffic violation. Was it fair for police officers to engage in a high speed pursuit for a minor traffic violation or misdemeanor if they were putting public safety at serious risk?
I would also be concerned about who is investigating the Oakland Police Department. Right now, it seems that officials are investigating their own people and it appears that no outside agency is involved. How objective can a law enforcement agency be when they are investigating their own officers?
If I were a member of the victim’s family, I would be talking to an experienced San Francisco personal injury lawyer who can ensure that their legal rights are protected and that a fair and objective investigation is conducted in this case.