Maryland Plaintiffs Bring Wrongful Death Claim Against Police Officer After Fatal High Speed Chase

The surviving family members of a decedent may bring a wrongful death action against the person responsible for the death of their loved one by working with a Maryland personal injury attorney.  When negligence is alleged against a municipality or law enforcement officers, they may be held to a different legal standard.  In a July 20, 2020 case, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed a wrongful death claim against the county and a police officer.  One of the issues on appeal was whether summary judgment was property granted in favor of the defendants as to the gross negligence of the officer.

The plaintiffs in the case were the parents of a 17-month-old child.  The police officer was pursuing a suspect who had fled the scene of a hit-and-run accident at a high rate of speed.  The officer was driving at an average speed of 90 miles per hour to keep up with the suspect, in a residential and commercial area.  The car chase ended when the suspect ran a red light and struck another vehicle.  That vehicle was forced onto the curb, where it struck a stroller carrying the plaintiffs’ child.

The plaintiffs sued the county and the police officer, alleging gross negligence and wrongful death, among other claims.  The defendants claimed immunity from liability under Maryland law.  After the lower court granted summary judgment for the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed on multiple grounds.

Under Maryland law, operators of emergency vehicles, public officials, and local government officers are generally immune from liability for injuries caused while engaging in their official duties.  However, Maryland’s immunity statutes, as well as common law public official immunity, do not shield a law enforcement officer from liability if the officer was found to have exercised their official duties with malice or gross negligence.

Gross negligence claim has a higher evidentiary standard than simple negligence.  Gross negligence requires proof of an intentional failure to perform a duty, in reckless disregard of the consequences to others, or so utterly indifferent to the rights of others that it’s as if such rights did not exist.

On appeal, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s finding that there was no evidence of malice on the part of the officer.  However, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s ruling with respect to gross negligence.  The court pointed to evidence that the police officer was traveling 50 miles over the speed limit in a residential area, and that the pursuit continued after the suspect ran three to four red lights.  The appeals court went on to hold that a jury could reasonably infer from the evidence that the officer should not have engaged in such a high-risk pursuit, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

A Maryland personal injury attorney can provide legal advice to victims of negligence and their families after an accident or death.  Foran & Foran, P.A. represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and personal injury actions involving auto accidents, medical malpractice, and negligence on the part of businesses and other entities.  Schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer by calling Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.

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