I’ve Been In a Car Crash With a Police Car in New York. What Are My Rights?

Police officers, just like the rest of us, make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes result in very serious car accidents. If you are the victim of a car crash involving a police officer who is speeding, runs a red light, drives on the wrong side of the road, or commits some other act of egregious negligence, you may think that obtaining compensation from the police officer, as well as the police department and municipality for whom the police officer works, will be easy. After all, the police officer was so audaciously negligent, how can you lose?

If the defendant were anybody apart from a cop, you would almost certainly be entitled to collect compensation from that person if they committed any of the aforementioned negligent acts in connection with operating a motor vehicle on the public roadways within the State of New York. However, the New York State Legislature, in recognition of the fact that police officers often must respond quickly to emergency situations, has bestowed certain privileges upon police officers (in addition to operators of ambulances and fire trucks) when they are conducting “emergency operations” that permit them to violate the rules of the road in certain specific manners. If a police officer was engaged in any of the four privileged categories of privileged conduct contained in New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1104(b), you will have to prove that the officer’s conduct was “reckless”, instead of simply “negligent”, to collect any compensation from them in a car accident lawsuit.

Under VTL Section 1104, in conducting an “emergency operation”, police officers are allowed to commit the following four types of conduct that would otherwise be contrary to the “rules of the road” in New York State: (i) Stop, stand or park anywhere on any roadway, (ii) run a red light after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation, (iii) exceed the maximum speed limit so long as life and property are not endangered, and (iv) disregard regulations governing directions of travel or turning (i.e., make otherwise-illegal turns or drive the wrong way down one-way streets). If a police officer is indeed part of a bona fide “emergency operation” (a special circumstances which is defined in the statute, and includes things like responding to a police radio call) and commits any one of the aforementioned four categories of otherwise-illegal conduct, he or she can only be held liable for causing a car crash, no matter how serious the accident, if it can be proven that he or she acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others in operating their vehicle and causing the crash. It should be noted that police officers are not required to turn on their lights or sirens in order to take advantage of this special privilege.

Take the following example as an illustration of how this special privilege works: A police officer receives a call on his police radio that a larceny has occurred at a local supermarket. He or she begins traveling toward the supermarket, and approaches an intersection at which traffic in his direction of travel has a red light. The officer slows his vehicle to approximately five miles per hour and sounds the air horn on his car, and keeps his lights and sirens on the entire time. As he passes through the intersection at a very slow speed, against a red light, you are approaching the intersection with a green light and are just about to pass over the stop line and into the intersection. By the time you see the police car obstructing the intersection against a red light, you do not have time to stop your car; you smash into him at approximately 25 miles per hour, causing a serious T-bone collision in which you sustain injuries.

Under these circumstances, the police officer would qualify for the protections of VTL 1104, and you would have to prove that he was reckless in entering the intersection in order to collect any damages from him in a car accident lawsuit. Under the facts presented above, you would be very unlikely to win. However, if, for example, the police officer had been traveling at 45 miles per hour and had not slowed down, or had gone into the intersection around a blind corner without slowing down or looking to see if traffic was clear, you might be in a better position to obtain compensation from him, as you would have an argument that his conduct was reckless under the circumstances. As you can see, these are very difficult cases, and only the best car accident attorneys can be trusted to guide you through them if you are injured by a police officer who is negligent in operating his or her police vehicle.

Our firm has been successful in many cases involving car crashes involving police officers despite the special privileges they enjoy under VTL 1104(b). Contact us today at (718) 354-8000 to discuss your car accident lawsuit today if you have been injured and believe that you might be entitled to compensation. We are standing by to help you in your time of need.