On the morning of March 13, 2021, the intersection of Victory Boulevard and California Road in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA) served as the site of a highly preventable tragedy. An innocent man lost his life and two vehicle passengers suffered serious injuries when a driver who was fleeing a police stop over outstanding warrants caused a crash,
Citing official Virginia State Police statements, WAVY-TV 10 reported that local Portsmouth officers attempted to pull over a 28-year-old woman driving a Jeep. The reason for the attempted stop was that the woman was “wanted on several violations.”
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The Jeep’s driver took off, leading officers on a brief chase that ended when she collided with Chrysler 300. The 38-year-old man behind the wheel of the car died at the scene. His female passenger and the passenger who was riding in the Jeep survived with serious injuries and were transported to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
State police stated that the fleeing driver currently faces manslaughter charges in connection with causing the deadly crash. The woman will likely be charged with additional offenses once the investigation into the incident concludes.
Who Is to Blame?
Clearly, the woman who led the Portsmouth police on the chase down Victory Boulevard caused the fatal collision that also sent two innocent passengers to the hospital with injuries. A natural question will arise regarding whether the officers also bear responsibility.
The very likely answer is no. Law enforcement officers have very broad legal authority to pursue suspects with the intent of making arrests. Also, the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity would likely shield any officer from a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits even if the officer was found to have acted negligently while engaged in the chase.
Basically, government officials such as police officers cannot be sued for actions they take in the course of fulfilling their official duties. Executing warrants is within an officer’s duties.
Holding the At-Fault Driver to Account
These circumstances leave the family of the man who lost his life and the injured passengers with only one viable option: filing insurance claims against the woman who drive the Jeep. This will almost definitely prove complicated.
Even if the at-fault driver carried auto insurance as required by Virginia law, she is unlikely to have enough liability coverage to make fair and just compensation to a wrongful death victim and two other injury victims. Virginia drivers are only required to carry $50,000 in liability coverage for causing crashes that injure or kill more than one other person. Companies that issue policies have no obligation to pay out more than the coverage limit. As a result, the victims of the crash in Portsmouth will probably have to access the uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) provisions of their own auto insurance policies.
Invoking UM/UIM coverage amounts to suing your own insurance company. The insurer will contest claims as if they came from someone to whom they did not issue a policy. Partnering with an experienced Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorney when taking on any insurance company is a good idea.