Kentucky Supreme Court Says Officers Can Be Held Liable To Third Parties Struck By Fleeing Suspects During Emergency Pursuits

On June 13, 2019, in the case of Gonzalez v. Johnson (2018-SC-000224-DG), the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an opinion in which it held that an officer can be liable to a third party struck by a fleeing suspect as a result of a negligent pursuit. Juries are now free to determine whether a pursuing officer’s actions were negligent, specifically whether the officer’s actions were a substantial factor in causing injury to the third party.

This opinion overruled the longstanding per se rule that a police officer’s actions could never be the cause of damages suffered by a third party created in Chambers v. Ideal Milk Co. In overturning this precedent, the Court emphasized that Kentucky has since adopted the “substantial factor” test for legal causation and has adopted the doctrine of comparative fault. The Court reasoned that the per se rule was decided in a time when blame could only reside with one party, and with the adoption of the “substantial factor” test and comparative fault, the per se rule should no longer exist.

The Court points to the change in relevant statutory language as well, noting that the duty of care owed to the public at large by pursuing officers is that of due regard in accordance with KRS 189.940.

It remains important for insurers to retain experienced defense attorneys to navigate this area of the law. If you are an insurance provider, and would like to know more about officer’s liability to third parties injured in pursuits, contact our office at 859.422.6000.

This article was authored by WHT attorney Max Smith. To learn more about Max and his practice, please visit his bio. 

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