Why Many Car Accident Cases Involving Police Fail in New York
One of the primary challenges inherent in suing the police for their negligence in connection with a car accident is that unlike regular civilians, the policy more often have available to them the defense that their actions are protected if they were in the process of responding to an emergency situation, in accordance with New York's Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1104.
To that end, New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, summarized this rule as follows:
"The manner in which a police officer operates his or her vehicle in responding to an emergency radio bulletin may not form the basis of civil liability to an injured third party unless the officer acted in reckless disregard for the safety of others (see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 [e]; Saarinen v Kerr, 84 NY2d 494, 501 ; Molinari v City of New York, 267 AD2d 436 ). The "reckless disregard" standard requires evidence that the actor intentionally committed an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow (see Szczerbiak v Pilat, 90 NY2d 553, 557 ; Saarinen v Kerr, supra at 501; Campbell v City of Elmira, 84 NY2d 505, 510 )."
In other words, if the police can prove that they were responding to an emergent situation at the time of the accident, the plaintiff must not only show that they acted negligently; the plaintiff must prove that they acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others, which is far more difficult.