Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania police pursuit liability claims modified by judge

Evidence of law breaking is needed to convict a criminal the same way proof of negligence is required before damages are awarded in Pennsylvania civil actions. As in criminal cases, civil allegations are dropped when evidence does not support charges.

Some, but not all, claims against a Pennsylvania police chief, an officer and a borough were thrown out recently by a federal judge. The judge agreed some accusations over the deaths of two pedestrians during a 2011 police chase were valid. The victims were hit by a car driven by a suspect fleeing from a Folcroft Borough patrol officer in Glenolden, a small community outside Philadelphia.

The pursuing officer allegedly conducted the high-speed, nighttime chase without activating the patrol car's emergency siren. One pedestrian died at the crash site; the other victim died the following day.

The complaint charged the borough and police chief with state-created danger and the chief with a civil rights conspiracy. The petition also stated the chief failed to conduct a thorough investigation. Additionally, the lawsuit sought survival, negligence and wrongful death damages from all defendants, including the patrol officer.

The federal judge agreed the plaintiffs showed Folcroft had no safety plan in place for police chases. The court also validated the claim the police chief failed to instruct officers about pursuit rules.

The court rejected the plaintiffs' conspiracy complaint. The judge stated the chief was unaware of the police chase and fatal crash at the time they occurred and had no direct involvement in the pursuit or accident victims' harm.

The defendants wanted the judge to reject every claim, except negligence, against Folcroft and the patrol officer. The request was rejected, as the borough and chief's claims were downsized.

Civil claims against defendants in government agencies are subject to state sovereign immunity laws. A personal injury attorney can explain how that differs from a case against civilian defendants.

Source:, "Quiet Police Chase May Leave Borough Liable" Rose Bouboushian, Dec. 04, 2013

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