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Police car following cars inside a city with motion blur effect; $5.24M Settlement Reached in High-Speed Chase that Resulted in Death of Fetus

$5.24M Settlement Reached in High-Speed Chase that Resulted in Death of Fetus

A $5.24 million settlement was reached following the death of a fetus during a high-speed chase involving a police car and an unregistered SUV.

A local police officer attempted to pull over an SUV with an unregistered license plate shortly after 7 p.m. There was no other information available to the police about the SIV or its driver. Before the attempt to stop, the SUV was operating normally.

The SUV began to run in response to the officer’s attempt to halt it. The police responded by chasing the suspect down a major highway, past dozens of driveways and crossroads, and on wet roads with poor visibility. Both vehicles reached speeds of more than 90 miles per hour during the chase. The officer was unable to catch up to the SUV at the start of the chase. Despite this, the officer pursued the suspect for about five minutes. The pursuit ended when the SUV attempted to make a left turn. The SUV collided with the vehicle in which the plaintiff was a front-seat passenger.

The plaintiff was a young woman who was six months pregnant with her first child. She was rushed to the hospital for surgery to remove the deceased fetus and her ruptured and bleeding uterus. Any future child-bearing attempt by the plaintiff and her husband will necessitate surrogacy.

The plaintiff sued the officer for the wrongful death of her pregnancy as well as her injuries. Carelessness, gross negligence, and willful and wanton negligence were all alleged by the plaintiff. The police officer filed a demurrer. He claimed that he was immune from negligence liability and that the complaint lacked sufficient details to establish gross, willful, or wanton negligence. Following a briefing and oral argument, the trial court denied the demurrer and set separate trial dates for the two actions.

The severity of the plaintiff’s injuries was not disputed, but it was argued that the officer was permitted to violate traffic laws because he was engaged in emergency driving under Va. Code 46.2-920, and that Virginia case law established that a police officer engaged in “hot pursuit” of another vehicle was immune from negligence liability. It was also claimed that “slight care” defeated a claim for gross negligence and that the officer used “slight care” during the pursuit by activating his lights and siren.

The plaintiff cited case law stating that a police officer who engages in emergency diving in response to an emergency is immune from liability for traffic violations. The plaintiff contended that the dangerous conditions created by an officer’s pursuit could not constitute the “emergency conditions” required to justify a pursuit. If that were the law, any high-speed pursuit for any reason (or no reason) would be legal and unpunishable.


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