Today’s police chase lawsuit round-up

In Connecticut, the town of Norwalk is paying $1.5 million in a settlement with pedestrians hit by a drunk driver fleeing police. Plaintiffs had sought millions. “[Julia] Johnson’s estate sought additional compensation for her death from cancer in August 2001. The estate argued that Johnson’s injuries caused her to miss a scheduled mammogram that would have caught the cancer in its early stages.” The settlement seems to be a “moral hazard” artifact of the insurance policy, which covered negligence, but not recklessness; the judge had ruled the city couldn’t be held liable for negligence, and the city worried that a jury sympathizing with the plaintiffs would’ve simply found the quantum of recklessness needed so they could award damages. This is a useful example about the inefficacy of immunity statutes that protect against “negligence” but not “gross negligence.” (Brian Lockhart, “City pays $1.5M to settle suit with hurt pedestrians”, Stamford Advocate, Mar. 14). Unrelatedly, Norwalk is also the defendant in a suit by Linda Gorman. Gorman took a job in the town clerk’s office , interacting with the general public, but complains that the town isn’t doing enough to deal with her sensitivity to fragrances and perfumes. (Brian Lockhart, “Norwalk City Hall employee files lawsuit over perfume”, Stamford Advocate, Mar. 1).

Thousands of miles away, a jury found Hawaii County 34% responsible for the death of Ellison Sweezey, who was killed when Richard Rosario, a 20-year-old crystal meth addict fleeing police, ran a red light and struck her car. Cost to taxpayers: $1.9 million. If there were joint and several liability, the county would also be on the hook for Rosario’s share. (Rod Thompson, “Jury awards $5.6M in death from car chase”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mar. 9; “$5.6M awarded to family of Big Island crash victim”, Honolulu Advertiser, Mar. 9). Hawaii police have undergone training to limit their willingness to chase suspects, with the expected counterproductive result (which we discussed Sep. 21, 2003) that criminals are now more likely to flee because their chances of escape have increased. (Rod Thompson, “Car theft suspect flees after slow-speed pursuit”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mar. 10). Other car-chase lawsuits: Jan. 3; Feb. 18, 2004 (& letter to the editor, Apr. 12).

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