Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Police Can Be Sued Over Deadly Car Chases

July 22, 2019

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that police can be sued for damages when their car chases lead to the death or injury of third parties.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the court’s 6-1 ruling last month overturned a 1952 decision that had granted police blanket immunity. The ruling will align Kentucky practice with that of most other states where juries are allowed to decide whether police are at fault.

In the case at hand, the children of Luis Gonzalez will be allowed to sue Scott County Sheriff Tony Hampton and Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Johnson for damages related to their father’s death.

Gonzalez died in 2014 when Keenan McLaughlin crashed head-on into Gonzalez’s vehicle as he was fleeing from Johnson. A passenger in Gonzalez’s car died months later from her injuries.

“A litany of things went wrong with the pursuit,” the court’s majority opinion reads. That included a broken siren on Johnson’s car; wet, slippery roads; and a restless police dog that was poking his head into the front of the car where Johnson sat, steering.

McLaughlin pleaded guilty in 2015 to two counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Attorney Barry Stilz representing the sheriff’s office, said they are disappointed with the ruling and disagree with it.

Justice Laurance VanMeter wrote a dissenting opinion. It said the Kentucky lawmakers had seven decades to enact a law addressing the court’s 1952 decision if they believed police should face liability for chase-related crashes, but they did not.

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