We heard the sirens as my wife and I walked to the Chik Fil A Bowl to watch Virginia get crushed by Auburn and it was not until the next day that we read about the tragic collision that took the life of the wife of an Atlanta Braves trainer. She was killed when her SUV was struck by a Georgia State Patrolman speeding to help another officer in a traffic stop. The patrolman was not in pursuit of anyone at the time and had his lights activated but witnesses disagree on whether his siren was active. It is undisputed that he entered the intersection on a red light.
Invariably the question of what is a patrolman thinking speeding through a red light on New Years Eve while blocks away, 70,000 people are trying to get to the Chik Fil A Bowl? You know traffic is going to be heavy and filled with families. 60 extra seconds to slow down for the intersection is not going to be critical when you are not the only chase vehicle.
What does Georgia law say about potential legal liability in this scenario? Can you sue the State of Georgia for a car accident?
The law initially says that you cannot sue the State of Georgia, it has sovereign immunity. That is a “force field” that protects the State from most lawsuits; but there are exceptions.
If we look to the Georgia Tort Claims Act, which says the immunity is waived to a certain degree in some circumstance, there is a way for the case to proceed. Under OCGA 50-21-23, the sovereign immunity of the Department of Public Safety is waived for acts of officers while on duty in some circumstances.
For many years, the State of Georgia got out of any responsibility claiming that under and exception to the waiver, the way officers implement policy was also immune from reproach. This changed with several cases as was made clear in Department of Public Safety v. Davis 289 Ga App. 21 (2007).
If the family can show that the officer entered the red light without his siren activated, he would be in violation of Departmental procedures and would likely be found negligent, making the Department liable up to the maximum exposure of $1,000,000.00.
For crashes involving high speed pursuits and County and City law enforcement be aware that there are different evidentiary standards for each.