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Ameer is driving in fast traffic on a highway when Bob, a police officer driving behind him, lights up the blues for a traffic stop on reasonable suspicion of speeding. Ameer looks for a safe place to pull over, but the shoulder is consistently the same width, matching that of the car. Bob thinks this has gone on too long and gets on the loudspeaker informing Ameer he must pull over immediately. Ameer does so. Bob approaches in the small space between the car and guardrail on the passenger side, pissed, with his gun drawn, and asks some questions about Ameer's speed. Ameer gives some snarky answer about not wanting to meet the driver behind him.

The conversation escalates as the officer comes around to the driver's side and performs an "extraction maneuver" to get Ameer out of the car, as Ameer has not complied with an order to do so sufficiently quickly (though he did unbuckle his seatbelt after the order). Ameer claims it was a rather rough extraction, but Bob's dash cam was coincidentally not operating at the time (and Bob's department does not have body cameras). The officer gets Ameer up and requires him to stand next to the vehicle with his hands up on the top of the driver's door and his feet about body width apart and the same distance away from the vehicle.

The officer moves back to being in front of the vehicle, facing Ameer. A third car (for convenience, I'll call the driver C) driving along the same highway in the same fast traffic comes along and strikes Ameer, throwing his body a good distance.

As a result of the accident, Ameer has severe injuries including a broken back and permanent paralysis from the waist down. His car is undamaged, but he is unable to drive it anymore (even with assistive technology, and he must sell it to help pay the huge medical bills that rack up during his long hospital stay).

C immediately leaves the scene, before the officer can switch focus away from his efforts to get out of the way of the flying body; the officer does not notice enough to identify C or C's vehicle. C cannot be tracked down, thus successfully evading any legal responsibility.

Does the officer and/or his department and/or municipality carry legal responsibility for this? Or is it indeed all Ameer's fault, for having made the snarky comment (but for which he would arguably not have been forced out of the car to begin with)?

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In principle, police are liable for the safety of anyone they detain. If an officer creates a hazardous condition, as was described in this scenario, he or his agency (which effectively means the taxpayers who fund his agency) can be held liable for damages resulting from that action. (Whether it is the officer or instead the taxpayers who get stuck with the bill is a separate question of "qualified immunity.")

This idea has been formalized under two theories:

  1. The "special relationship doctrine" would apply in this case because the officer was detaining the driver.
  2. Otherwise, the liability could be argued under the more broad "state-created danger doctrine."
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    This is especially true given that pretty much every department now trains officers to never position civilians between the car and the road if they are removed from the vehicle, to prevent exactly this type of situation. A violation of SOP would make it incredibly easy for a civilian to win a case like this. – animuson Apr 12 '17 at 0:58
  • I managed once to get stuck in the motorway in the UK, called for help (plenty of phones on the road for that, all watched by CCTV). The first thing they say "please step over the barrier, away from traffic". They do not talk to you about anything until you are safe on the other side of that barrier. With good reason: Of all people dying in traffic accidents on the motorway in the UK, 20% are pedestrians. Who have no business being there. – gnasher729 Apr 13 '17 at 18:20

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