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Injured by Cruiser


In my experience, many officers who have been injured by a cruiser have missed out on valuable compensation for three principal reasons.  First, the injured officer mistakenly believes that no valuable claim can be made because the injury was caused through a collision with a cruiser inside or outside of the Department.  Second, the injured officer mistakenly believes that the only valuable claim which can be made is against the officer who operated the cruiser.  And last, the injured officer often receives advice from other lawyers, which mistakenly focuses on the other officer.  Not only is making a claim against a fellow officer an unpopular strategy, but such claims against a fellow officer are denied for a variety of reasons.  These three principal mistakes can be avoided when one carefully considers and appreciates the law upon which valuable claims for the injured officer can be made: negligence law. The law of negligence is typically the basis for claims involving automobile accidents. 

The law of negligence also serves as the underpinning of other injury claims which involve slip and fall accidents, defective premises, medical malpractice and dangerous products.   In order to establish negligence there must be a duty of care owed to the injured party, a breach of that duty of care, resulting damages, and the breach of the duty must be the "proximate cause" of the resulting damages.  In the case of an automobile accident, the duty of care is to carefully operate the motor vehicle while observing the various motor vehicle laws, weather, traffic and speed conditions which are applicable at the time.  The breach of the duty of care is the violation of one or more motor vehicle laws or the failure to carefully operate the vehicle given the prevailing traffic and weather conditions.  The damages which result from the breach may include pain and suffering, medical bills, scarring, and/or lost income.  The final and key element to making a successful valuable claim for the injured officer is establishing the "proximate cause" of the collision as being the conduct of someone other than the officer who operated the cruiser.
It is easy to be confused by the concept of "proximate cause".  On the surface, the immediate or direct cause of the officer's injury may appear to be the cruiser which was operated in pursuit of another or in response to an incident.  A quick test to determine whether another person may be the proximate cause of the officer's injury is to ask would the officer's injury have occurred "but for" the negligent conduct or negligent operation of a motor vehicle by another.  If this other person's conduct satisfies the "but for" test, then we look to see whether the other person's conduct is a "substantial factor" in bringing about the injured officer's harm.

For example, consider a case which I handled twenty years ago for two officers who operated their cruisers in pursuit of a stolen motor vehicle. The two cruisers came from opposite directions on the same road.  At the last minute, the operator of the stolen motor vehicle swerved into the path of Officer A causing him to veer into the opposing lane of travel in order to avoid a head-on collision with the operator of the stolen motor vehicle.  As a result of veering into the opposite lane of travel, Officer A, unfortunately, collided head on with Officer B's cruiser, which was also in pursuit of the stolen motor vehicle and traveling in the opposite direction of Officer A's cruiser. "But for" the negligent operation of the stolen motor vehicle when it swerved into the path of Officer A, there would have been no head-on collision of the two cruisers.  Certainly the operator's conduct in driving a stolen vehicle and swerving into the path of one of the officers satisfies the "substantial factor" test, as it was the cause of the pursuit by both officers to begin with and was the principal factor which caused the head-on collision between the two officers. 

In that case, I represented both officers, who collected substantial monies to compensate them for their serious injuries.  Neither officer made a claim against the other. In another case, I represented an officer who had cut off a stolen van with his cruiser forcing the subject to abruptly stop, exit the stolen van and flee on foot.  Unfortunately, this officer was seriously injured when another cruiser, also in pursuit of the stolen van, approached from behind and veered around the van when it abruptly stopped.  As a result, that cruiser skidded into and struck the officer who was then chasing the subject on foot.  The officer sustained a fractured leg.  The injured officer's first two attorneys focused on making a claim against the officer who operated the skidding cruiser.  As mentioned earlier, these claims are ill-advised and get denied for a variety of reasons.  Again, "but for" the operation of the fleeing stolen motor vehicle, there would have been no foot chase and collision with the skidding cruiser.  By focusing on the stolen van operator's conduct in stealing and fleeing in the stolen van, I was able to establish he, not the second officer in pursuit, was the proximate cause of the accident.  After two years of getting nowhere with his prior attorneys, the injured officer hired me and I was able to collect $100,000.00 for him in nine months.

Finally, we recently collected $100,000.00 for an officer (Officer 1) who was near a main thoroughfare when he heard the report of a motor vehicle being pursued by members of his Department for various motor vehicle infractions.  Officer 2 came along and stopped his cruiser across the path of the fleeing vehicle.  Officer 1 entered the opposite lane of travel on foot in anticipation of making the arrest and assisting with the stop.  The operator of the fleeing vehicle did not stop and veered to the right around Officer 2's stopped cruiser and onto the sidewalk, eventually getting away.  Unfortunately, Officer 3, who was in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle, veered to the left of Officer 2's stopped cruiser into the opposite lane of travel, where Officer 1 was standing ready to assist with the stop.  Officer 3's cruiser struck Officer 1, causing him severe injuries from which he eventually recuperated and returned to full duty.  The fleeing operator left the scene and was never identified.  Again, a successful claim was made by focusing on the negligent operation of the fleeing operator who negligently failed to stop for police and then negligently veered around the cruiser stopped across the roadway and onto the sidewalk.  "But for" the negligent operation of the fleeing operator, Officer 1, who was ready to assist with the stop, never would have been in the roadway and struck by Officer 3's cruiser.

The scenarios where an officer injured by another officer's cruiser may have a valuable claim are infinite.  Such scenarios could include:  

  • Officer struck by cruiser in pursuit of a vehicle which refused to stop;
  • Officer struck by cruiser in pursuit of a stolen motor vehicle;
  • Officer struck by cruiser in pursuit of a vehicle leaving a crime scene;
  • Officer struck by cruiser responding to a crime scene or a rescue situation;
  • Officer struck by cruiser which skid on a foreign substance in the roadway;
  • Officer struck by cruiser which skid on ice which unnaturally formed on the roadway; or
  • Officer struck by cruiser which was pushed into the officer by another vehicle.
It is important that the injured officers had previously purchased high optional limits on their own personal automobile insurance policies under Part 3 for Bodily Injury Caused By An Uninsured Auto and under Part 12 for Bodily Injury Caused By An Underinsured Auto.  The purchase of such limits often will be the only means of substantial compensation on a valuable claim.  An officer need not wait for the anniversary period of their automobile insurance policy to increase their coverages.  Further, unlike the more expensive higher limits of Part 5 Bodily Injury To Others, officers will find it comparatively inexpensive to increase limits under Parts 3 and 12.  I remind officers that they and their family members should, at the very least, carry $100,000/$300,000 for these two coverages, if possible, on all vehicles owned by the officer and/or the family members.  Further, the coverage under Parts 3 and 12 cannot exceed the coverage under Part 5 Bodily Injury to Others.

Finally, officers who have been injured by cruisers in the past may still have valuable claims which can be made.  In many cases, I have been able to make valuable claims feven though the incident occurred many years earlier. 

An injured officer should always consider seeking a free consultation to determine his or her rights, benefits, and the probability of making a successful claim.  I am always available by telephone, email or a personal meeting.  Once I evaluate the case and the officer's chances of success, the decision whether to go forward rests with the officer.  If the injured officer is out of work, the decision when to return to work rests, as it should, with the officer and his or her doctor.  Unlike other attorneys, we do not believe in, nor do we have any interest in, keeping officers out injured any longer than necessary to heal from their injuries.  As it is, many of our injured officers never miss a day of work and are still able to receive substantial compensation for their injuries which continue to nag at them during long hours spent behind the wheel of a cruiser and/or standing on a road job.

As with all claims involving an officer's injury on duty, there are no guarantees.  Many police injury cases involve sophisticated legal issues, problems of proof, technical insurance policy coverage disputes, and issues that arise under Massachusetts General Laws c. 41, §100 and §111F, Chapter 152 and or other related laws. When we work on these cases, we work on a contingent fee basis. That means the injured officer pays nothing up front and while the case is pending.  He or she only need pay for legal services and expenses at the end of the case, if we successfully collect money on the claim.   We typically will receive one-third of the money collected.   In the off-chance we are unable to collect money for the injured officer, the officer owes nothing for our legal services.   

[Copyright, Steven M. Ballin, 2005]


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