Police departments may be liable for damages arising from car chases when emergency lights are not activated, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled. The Denver Post says the decision yesterday preserves the lawsuit filed by Britt Tidwell, who says he suffered brain damage seven years ago in an auto accident caused by a Denver officer who did not turn on his lights and siren.
Tidwell was a passenger in a limousine that was hit by a car fleeing from police; the limo driver died and Tidwell, an Air Force veteran, was left paralyzed and brain damaged. The officer was tailing a suspected stolen car using only his yellow warning lights, not the red-and-blue emergency lights or his siren. The suspect car broadsided the limo at 60-70 mph after running a stop sign.
Tidwell contends that if the officer had turned on his siren or emergency lights, the limo driver would have at least let up on the accelerator and the accident probably would never have happened.
Even if the city loses the case, damages are capped at $150,000. Tidwell’s attorney says will do little to support Tidwell for the rest of his life.
The Supreme Court ruled that an officer must activate his car’s lights and siren to fall under the emergency-vehicle exception, which protects police and other emergency vehicles from liability in line-of-duty crashes.