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San Diego Police Car Hits Pedestrian

Craig McClellan

Given the large amount of time that police officers spend driving, it is unsurprising that they get into accidents on a regular basis. One of these accidents occurred this week in San Diego, leaving a pedestrian with serious injuries. These cases often raise tricky issues involving an area of law known as sovereign immunity. In short, police departments and other government entities are often immune to all lawsuits.

Like many pedestrian accidents, this crash occurred late in the evening. Because it was dark and there were apparently no witnesses other than the officers themselves, it is unclear exactly what happened. According to one officer, a 20-year-old pedestrian stepped off the sidewalk and into traffic. That officer's car hit the young man hard enough to cause severe head and leg injuries. The squad car hit him hard enough that its windshield broke from the impact.

If any private citizen had been driving the car, the pedestrian would have a strong argument against them. In a claim against a police department, however, special considerations exist.

Under traditional rules that applied throughout the United States, government entities enjoyed what is known as "sovereign immunity." Sovereign immunity developed in British law and exempted the government from all civil lawsuits from citizens. Most states and municipal areas have moved away from that rule in recent decades by passing laws to create exceptions. These statutes specify certain situations in which citizens can sue the government.

When an officer's misconduct or negligence results in injuries, the victim's rights often depend upon whether the relevant government entity has given its citizens the right to hold the police department responsible.

Source: NBC 7 San Diego, " Officer Strikes Pedestrian with Patrol Car," Monica Garske, Dec. 20, 2012