Pearl Police pursuit: who may be liable for crash that killed postal worker?

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 8:36 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Fatal high-speed chases have landed police departments and cities in court, where they were found liable. Some are questioning whether Pearl will face similar consequences. A legal expert discussed who may be responsible in the chase that resulted in the death of a postal worker.

The Cities of Jackson and Madison have been sued over high-speed chases, which resulted in compensation and settlements by those entities. The tragic death of postal worker Brad Pennington during Pearl’s high-speed chase of Brandon Andrews also raises questions of liability. Pearl Mayor Jake Windham places the blame squarely on Andrews.

“Without a doubt, the fleeing suspect is liable for their behavior which looks to me like a crime, a homicide crime, and they’re civilly liable for injuries to the postal worker,” said MC School of Law professor Matt Steffey.

The law professor adds that municipalities that have settled lawsuits did so because the police officer’s vehicle directly caused the injury or death. The burden is to prove that the officer was reckless.

“If this was tragic but not reckless, there’s no civil liability,” said Steffey. “If, however, there’s recklessness, it negates the specific statutory immunity from civil suit for the police officer.”

State law allows police departments to pursue fleeing suspects across jurisdictional lines. However, Steffey says an increasing number of departments discontinue high-speed chases because of instances like these and choose other means of apprehension.

“This highlights the extraordinary cost to innocent ordinary citizens,” said Steffey.

Under the MS Tort Claims Act, compensation is capped at $500,000 with no punitive damages or jury trial available. A trial would be held by a sitting judge only.

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