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If a police officer was in pursuit of someone else's car, with their lights and siren on and there was a second police car following the first police car, but they did not have his/her lights, or siren on, and the second police car hits your car (from behind). Are the police responsible for the damages?

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Under those circumstances, probably.

Under Wisconsin statute 346.03, an emergency vehicle which is exceeding the speed limit must generally use the lights and siren. There are some exceptions to this; however, given that they generally involve concealing the officer's presence, it seems unlikely that they could apply to the second car if the first is announcing its presence. And even if those exceptions apply:

The exemptions granted the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle by this section do not relieve such operator from the duty to drive or ride with due regard under the circumstances for the safety of all persons nor do they protect such operator from the consequences of his or her reckless disregard for the safety of others.

This document published in the Marquette Law Review is interesting. According to one footnote:

  1. The duty of care owed by a driver of an emergency police vehicle may vary according to jurisdiction, but the underlying principles of negligence are the same from state to state. In general, the driver of a police vehicle during an emergency situation must "exercise the care which a reasonably prudent person would exercise in the discharge of official duties of a like nature under the circumstances." 7A AM. JUR. 2D Automobiles and Highway Traffic § 418 (1980).

The paper notes that police have their own guidelines as to how to conduct chases, and that if those guidelines are not followed, juries will often find liability. But, as the paper also notes, "under the circumstances" means that the facts of each individual case must be examined. In this case, hitting someone from behind with a car that didn't have its lights and sirens seems bad for the officer. On the other hand, perhaps the person who got hit didn't pull over as required by law or swerved in front of the second car; that would weaken the person's case. In the end a jury would decide.

  • Though not in Ohio (fisheldowney.com/…), California (?) lexipol.com/resources/blog/…. It would be interesting to see a full count of the 50 states. – user6726 Apr 14 at 23:57
  • @user6726 In the Ohio case, they can still be found liable if acting "in a wanton or reckless manner." Chasing without lights and siren, and hitting a car from behind, might indicate recklessness. In the California case, the immunity is for the police department itself - I'm not sure it would apply to individual officers, especially if they're violating the policy (because surely any sane policy doesn't allow officers to chase without lights and sirens.) – D M Apr 15 at 1:52

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