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Memphis Liable for Car Accident Caused by Police Officer


After a car accident, a negligent driver may offer all sorts of excuses to avoid responsibility. The driver may try and blame the victim or argue there was a “sudden emergency” that justified their reckless actions. But without evidence, such excuses will not hold up in court–even when they are made by a police officer.

Judge Did Not Accept “Phantom Dog” Defense

Indeed, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently upheld a $90,000 personal injury judgment against the City of Memphis incurred as the result of a police officer’s reckless driving. While municipalities normally enjoy “sovereign immunity” from civil lawsuits, Tennessee law makes an exception for ordinary torts committed by government employees. This includes the type of traffic accident that occurred in this case.

The plaintiff was traveling southbound on a five-lane road in Memphis. The police officer was driving his police car in one of the northbound lanes. Although the officer was traveling on official business, it was not an urgent matter and he did not use his emergency lights or sirens.

As the plaintiff approached an intersection, the police officer’s car struck him. The impact of the crash forced the plaintiff to seek emergency medical care. The plaintiff subsequently sought chiropractic care due to ongoing pain that he said was a result of the accident. The plaintiff and his wife both testified that the injuries and pain led to a decrease in his physical activities for some time after the accident.

The plaintiff sued the City of Memphis for the negligence of its police officer. At trial, the city presented a number of defenses. Of note, the city argued the officer was responding to a “sudden emergency”: the officer testified he thought he saw an intoxicated person approaching his vehicle from the right; he moved quickly to shift his vehicle away into the middle lane of the road. The officer said he did not see the plaintiff or any other oncoming traffic. After swerving, the officer looked back and said he saw a dog, which he believed was the “person” he was trying to avoid. The plaintiff testified he never saw any person or dog.

The case was tried before a judge without a jury. The judge said the officer’s testimony was insufficient to establish the “existence of the person or dog.” The judge further noted the officer had “two full traffic lanes open to his left,” yet he still managed to hit the plaintiff who was traveling in the opposite direction. Given this, there was no “sudden emergency” and the city was therefore liable for the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries.

The city appealed, but the Court of Appeals said there was no reason to second-guess the trial judge’s assessment of the evidence.

Get Help From a Clinton Personal Injury Lawyer

It is not unusual for parties to have different recollections of the events leading up to a car accident. That is why it is important to provide a judge or jury with as much supporting evidence as possible in support of your case. An experienced Knoxville car accident attorney can help. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to schedule an appointment with a qualified personal injury lawyer right away.



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