Articles Posted in Government Liability

Police throughout the country engage in high-speed chases every day. Many of these high-speed chases result in serious personal injury, death, and property damage. While many of these high-speed pursuits result in capturing a fleeing suspect, they often have serious consequences to New Hampshire motorists and bystanders. The law defines pursuits as instances when an on-duty officer in a patrol car is involved in an active attempt to apprehend one or more occupants of a moving vehicle. Although many law enforcement agencies maintain policies and procedures concerning high-speed chases, accidents continue to occur.

For example, national news reports recently reported that federal prosecutors announced that a police officer would be charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice following the death of a 20-year-old. The 20-year-old died after his moped slammed into a car while officers were chasing him. The officers stated they were chasing the young man because he was riding his moped on the sidewalk without a helmet. The chase made its way into an alley, and when the moped driver emerged from the alley, he slammed into the passenger door of a passing vehicle. D.C. City police rules forbid high-speed chased over minor traffic violations. In addition to criminal charges, the officers may face civil claims from the deceased man’s family.

After a typical car accident, the negligent party’s conduct is measured against the “reasonable person” standard. However, under the civil system, law enforcement officers are viewed differently than ordinary citizens. In most cases, the law requires these parties to exercise reasonable care in their actions according to their unique training and abilities. Therefore, the degree of care they exercise while in the pursuit of a fleeing suspect must be appropriate relative to the circumstances at hand.

Historically, the concept of sovereign immunity provided federal and state governments with protection against lawsuits stemming from its negligence. Although the concept originated from British common law’s idea that the “King can do no wrong,” the notion persisted for centuries. This doctrine hindered New Hampshire injury victims from pursuing claims against governmental entities. However, a shift occurred when Congress passed the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA provides waivers for various tort claims against government entities.

The New Hampshire legislature has various statutory immunities in place designed to protect governmental entities and their agents. These statutes provide immunity from lawsuits for bodily injury, personal injury, and property damage. However, in response to the fundamental unfairness of these statutes, New Hampshire lawmakers provide some waivers to these immunities. These claims must abide by the strict notice and filing requirements. To avoid dismissal, potential plaintiffs should seek legal representation to assist them through these complex lawsuits.

New Hampshire law provides that plaintiffs who wish to sue the state must commence their lawsuit within three years. Plaintiffs must provide the relevant agency with written notice of their intent to sue within 180 days of the injury. The Board of Claims for the state will have jurisdiction over any claims alleging less than $5,000 in damages. The Superior Court maintains jurisdiction over claims that are more than $5,0000.

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