Deadly Police Pursuit

Glamorized in action movies, high-speed chases in real life may threaten the public more than the crime for which a fleeing suspect is being chased.  The recent death of a 72 year old Lynnwood man who was struck by a fleeing driver brings the debate about the risks of police pursuit to the forefront.  In this instance, the fleeing driver was wanted on warrants for misdemeanor drug possession and theft.  Just two weeks earlier, also in Snohomish County, police pursued a driver of a stolen pickup, which ultimately crashed into and killed a 42 year old nurse and mother.

See: Seattle Times

Sobering Statistics

Roughly one third of fatalities arising from high-speed police chases are innocent bystanders.

See: USA Today

Less than one year ago, police pursuit was highlighted in an ABC World News report that dubbed California the “police chase capital of the world”: More bystanders are injured or killed during high-speed police chases than by stray bullets. In California, more than 10,000 people have been injured and over 300 people killed because of police chases in the last decade……….

See: ABC News

An article in the 2010 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin offers these chilling statistics.  According to police pursuit records:

  • The majority of police pursuits involve a stop for a traffic violation.
  • One person dies every day as a result of a police pursuit.
  • Innocent third parties who just happened to be in the way constitute 42 percent of persons killed or injured in police pursuits.
  • 1 out of every 100 high-speed pursuits results in a fatality.

See: FBI.gov 

Trend is toward “No Pursuit” Policies

Seattle, like many major cities, has gradually moved toward a highly restricted pursuit policy.  The Seattle Police Manual includes the following No Pursuit Rules:

Absent exigent circumstances, officers will not pursue solely for any one of the following:

  • The act of eluding alone
  • Traffic violations
  • Misdemeanors
  • Gross misdemeanors
  • Most property crimes

See: Seattle.gov 

Still, many cities leave the decision to pursue squarely within the police officer’s discretion.   Such is the Lynnwood pursuit policy, which no doubt will face close scrutiny on the heels of the recent fatalities.  While the Lynnwood police pursuit policy offers guidelines for when to pursue or terminate pursuit, it does not detail situations in which pursuit is not allowed. See: Seattle Times

Complicating the on-the-spot decision-making process are an officer’s physical responses to a fleeing suspect:

The need to “win” and make that arrest can be influenced by the adrenaline rush felt by the officer who also must recognize that the fleeing suspect will have the same experience. Because research has demonstrated the impact of this on an officer’s vision, hearing, motor skills, and decision making, it would appear necessary to prepare for the same adverse affect it could have on fleeing suspects. Clearly, a pursuit is an exciting event and involves one person running to escape and another chasing to catch.

See: FBI.gov

City and Police may Share Responsibility for Wrongful Death

There are certainly circumstances, involving dangerous criminals, which warrant high-speed pursuits.  But there are others in which high-speed pursuits are too dangerous in light of the risk to public safety.  Although the fleeing suspect who crashes into an innocent bystander is directly responsible for the harm caused, a police officer who has used poor judgment or failed to follow policy in pursuing the suspect may also be responsible for creating dangerous circumstances that result in injuries or fatalities.  A City that has failed to modify its pursuit policies in light of data about the dangerousness of pursuits may also be responsible.  James Dixon and Jennifer Cannon-Unione are experienced wrongful death and catastrophic injury attorneys who are also experienced in bringing cases against government entities where warranted.  If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of police or government wrongdoing, please do not hesitate to contact Dixon & Cannon, Ltd. at (206) 957-2247.

Avoidable Tragedy – Seatbelts Save Lives

In yet another alcohol fueled collision on Seattle streets, a young woman died when she was ejected from the backseat of a vehicle that crashed into a side barrier.  She was not wearing a seatbelt. The police suspect the driver was impaired by alcohol.  The driver and five other passengers survived the collision.Read Source.

According to the National Safety Council website, “Seat belts are the single most effective traffic safety device for preventing death and injury…… [w]earing a seat belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50 percent.”  Unfortunately, “seat belt use remains lowest among young drivers.”Read Source.

Be a defensive passenger

As legislative wheels grind to create new measures to punish or prevent drunk driving, we all can take measures to protect ourselves:

  1. Refuse to get into a car if you suspect the driver is chemically impaired
  2. Always wear a seatbelt
  3. Spread the word about seatbelts, especially to young people

Who is legally responsible for unbuckled passengers?

Responsibility for ensuring that passengers are buckled depends on the age of the passenger.  Under Washington State laws, drivers are responsible for ensuring that passengers younger than 16 are buckled.  A driver can be cited for having an unbuckled child in the car.  Adult passengers are responsible for buckling themselves and may be individually cited for failure to buckle.Read Source.

Although seatbelts decrease the risk of injury, a negligent driver is not excused from responsibility just because the injured person was not wearing a seatbelt.  Any other rule would require the jury to speculate what the injuries would have been had the person been wearing a seatbelt.   This would allow negligent and impaired drivers to escape full liability for their actions, which in turn, would make our roads less safe.    Accountability for actions that harm others is an important societal goal.

The attorneys of Dixon & Cannon, Ltd are experienced auto collision attorneys and have represented clients who have suffered life altering injuries as a result of being unbuckled passengers in vehicles driven by drunk drivers.  If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto collision, call Dixon & Cannon, Ltd to learn how we can help.

The Complex Problem of Substance Abuse Fueled Auto Collisions

In addition to dangers posed by distracted drivers, pedestrians and drivers must contend with drivers impaired by substance abuse.  In a tragic incident on Monday, March 25, while crossing the street in front of Eckstein Middle School in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, a family was struck down by drunk driver Mark Mullan. Killed were new grandparents Dennis and Judy Schulte.  The Schulte’s daughter-in-law and newborn grandchild remain hospitalized in critical condition.  As reported by the Seattle Times, Mullan has a history of dui arrests, speeding, hit and run, inattentive driving, and did not have a valid license when he crashed his pickup into the Schulte family.  Mullan was unharmed in the collision and remains in custody.

See the Seattle Time article

Substance Abuse Threatens Everyone

A single person’s substance abuse has wide ranging effects on the community.  Despite a caring family, numerous arrests and court interventions, Mullan’s destructive addiction continued until the worst thing imaginable happened.  Mullan’s sister-in-law, Megan Mullan, is quoted in the Seattle Times:

“He had struggled and struggled with the bottle,” she said. “He’s a terrific guy, but he couldn’t stop drinking.”

“We were all afraid he was going to kill himself, but never imagined this. We are all just sick, sick, sick over this,” she said.

See Seattle Times article

Tragedy Highlights Flaws in Prevention Measures

Prior to the collision, Mullan had been ordered by the courts to install an ignition interlock device on his vehicle.  He failed to do so.  The device, which detects whether the driver has any alcohol on his breath, would have prevented Mullan from starting his vehicle on the day of the crash.  In hindsight, it was a mistake to trust Mullan to follow through with getting an interlock device installed.   The tragedy has spurred lawmakers to consider better ways to enforce device installation.

See Seattle times Article

The Value of Legal Help Amidst Crisis

For the Schulte family, lawsuits and monetary recovery are not likely in their minds as they pray for the recovery of their loved ones.  But an experienced attorney may still play an important role on the recovery team.   A personal injury attorney can relieve some of the extraordinary stress on the family by coordinating resources to help cover immediate medical bills and other needs.  Such resources may include accessing the state’s Victim’s Compensation Assistance fund, applying for public or private disability funds, and working with a defendant’s attorney to start receiving payments on a future judgment.  Additionally, an attorney can immediately begin documenting the nature and extent of catastrophic injuries and future needs, crucial information when the time does come to bring claims against the party or parties responsible for the tragedy.

James Dixon and Jennifer Cannon-Unione are experienced wrongful death and catastrophic injury attorneys.  They’ve worked closely with clients whose lives were instantly and dramatically changed as the result of auto collisions caused by substance abuse.  If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a chemically impaired driver, please do not hesitate to contact Jim and Jennifer at (206) 957-2247.

Cell Phones in the Car: the Bad and the Good

As reported on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, “[i]n 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver… An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver… “ NHTSA lists common distractions:

  • Texting while driving
  • Driving while talking on a phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Driving while using a GPS or navigation system
  • Watching a video while driving
  • Adjusting a car radio, CD player, or MP3 player

See NHTSA website:

Hands-Free Cell Phones are Still a Distraction

Washington State has passed laws banning texting and hand-held cellular phone use. However, “studies have shown that simulated driving performance is also disrupted by conversations using hands-free devices.”(Carnegie Mellon) As cited on the NHTSA website, “driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%.” (Carnegie Mellon)

Is There a Good Side to Having a Cell Phone in the Car?

While cell phones may be a driving distraction, they are also valuable tools. In the case of automobile accidents, drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and bystanders are able to call for immediate medical, fire and police aid. Also, most cell phones are equipped with cameras, and are useful for documenting accident scenes and vehicle damage. Additionally, if you or someone near you is struck by a hit and run driver, a picture of the fleeing vehicle provides valuable information for police in tracking down the suspect and holding that person responsible for the harm they have caused.

If You are in a Car Accident with a Distracted Driver

Unfortunately, even the most careful driver may not be able to avoid a collision caused by a distracted driver. Additionally, the other driver may not willingly acknowledge the accident was their fault. This is where it helps to have an attorney on your side. An experienced attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to firmly establish the liability of the other driver. Such investigation may include interviews and depositions of witnesses, subpoenaing of relevant cell phone records, subpoenaing of traffic cam images, scene reconstruction experts, among other things.

James Dixon & Jennifer Cannon-Unione are experienced Washington car accident attorneys. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car, truck or motorcycle accident, don’t hesitate to call Dixon & Cannon, Ltd. at (206) 957-2247 for a free consultation.