Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law

Are Police Responsible for Failing to Prevent an Accident?

Although police in Tennessee are generally responsible for maintaining traffic and public safety, this does not mean a person injured in a car accident has an automatic right to seek damages against a municipality for failing to prevent the incident. In limited circumstances, federal civil rights law will support a claim against police if they fail to provide for the “reasonable safety” of persons within their custody. Alternatively, if a court determines there is a “state-created danger” which leads to an accident, a victim may seek damages against a municipality under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

Police Escort Does Not Create Municipal Liability

But it is exceedingly difficult to prove such claims, as a recent decision by a federal judge in Chattanooga illustrates. In this case, a motorcycle accident victim and the surviving spouses of two other victims who died accused the City of Dayton of civil rights violations in connection with the local police’s conduct on the evening in question. The judge determined the plaintiffs’ claims lacked legal merit and granted summary judgment to the city and three police officers individually named in the lawsuit.

The incident occurred in May 2012. The three police officers responded to an emergency call from a local hotel. It turned out to be a false alarm. A local motorcycle club happened to be meeting at the same hotel, preparing for an afternoon group ride with about 40 participants. The three police officers agreed to provide an escort for the group.

One officer led the motorcycle group, while the second blocked traffic ahead, and the third followed from the rear. Some riders fell behind, however, creating “gaps between groups of riders,” according to court records. Two motorcycles that fell behind attempted to catch up. As they passed through an intersection, a third vehicle collided with one of the motorcycles, killing the driver and passenger. The second motorcycle tried to avoid the collision but still made contact with some of the accident debris, injuring but not killing the driver.

The spouses of the two deceased victims and the surviving driver argued the city and the officers were liable for the accident under federal civil rights law. The defendants said their actions did nothing to injure the plaintiffs, as a third party caused the accident. The plaintiffs responded the city was liable because it assumed “custody” of the motorcycle group and was therefore responsibility for the safety of all of the drivers. Additionally, the plaintiffs argued the police escort amounted to a “state-created danger,” which contributed to the accident.

U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier found neither argument persuasive. “The undisputed facts do not show anything approaching a custodial relationship,” Judge Collier said in granting the defendant’s request for summary judgment. Nor was there a “state-created danger,” as the police escort “did not increase the risk to those injured or make them more vulnerable to harm.”

Have You Been Injured in a Motorcycle Accident?

While local police may not be responsible for failing to prevent an accident, negligent drivers should be. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident it is important you contact an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville if you would like to speak with someone today.

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