Kentucky Supreme Court Changes 1952 Ruling on Police Pursuit

Kentucky Supreme Court Changes 1952 Ruling on Police Pursuit

The Old Law

The Kentucky Supreme Court changed wrongful death law dating back to 1952 this week.  The old law protected a police officer in a high speed chase and applied when the police chased a bad guy that ran into someone else (the police running into someone directly is a different issue). In that event the officer couldn’t be held liable for negligent pursuit.  The old case, Chambers v. Ideal Pure Milk Co., 245 S.W.2d 589 (Ky. 1952), didn’t allow a jury to determine whether or not the officers actions in high speed chase was a substantial factor in causing injury to a third party.   The injured party could still sue the person that crashed into them, but could not sue the officer for negligent pursuit.


The new law, Gonzalez v. Johnson, 2018-000224-DG (Ky. 2019), allows an injured party to pursue the police officer for damages as a result of a negligent police pursuit.

My Opinion

Overruling the old law was a smart decision.  This case does not mean that the police cannot engage in pursuing bad guys.  What it means is that the police need to follow the rules as far as safety is concerned in pursuing a suspect.  Taking unnecessarily dangerous actions will result in the police officer being sued for damages.  This decision also doesn’t guarantee any recovery for a person injured in a high speed chase.  It does allow a jury to hear what happened and make a determination.

From a factual standpoint the actions of the officer in the new case were problematic.  The officer was engaged in a high speed chase, on a slippery road, with a dog in the back, WITH NO SIRENS ON.  Even after realizing the sirens were off, and in violation of a statute mandating sirens, the officer continued with the chase.  It eventually resulted in the bad guy fishtailing and killing another driver.

The other drivers estate filed a lawsuit against the police officer.  It will now be up to a jury in Scott County, Kentucky to determine what percentage of fault to place on the police officer for engaging in the chase with no sirens.  The Defense will argue that even with sirens the Plaintiff would have been killed.  The Plaintiff will argue that sirens would have given adequate heads up to get off of the roadway and avoid death.

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