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Iowa's High Court: Eluder must pay for PIT maneuver damage to police cars

crashed car

The Iowa Supreme court in State v. Shears held an eluder must pay for police car damage in restitution.

The Shears defendant argued the officers who gave chase damaged their own cars in a so-called PIT, or, Pursuit Intervention Technique, when officers intentionally hit his fleeing car to cause it to lose control.

To reach its conclusion, the Iowa Supreme Court examined the history of civil damages and criminal restitution.

In civil law, a number of concepts worked against the Shears defendant’s objections to restitution. The court held that the PIT maneuver damage was within the “scope of liability” because it was the type of thing that was foreseeable to anyone who eluded the police.

The Shears defendant argued two Wisconsin cases should apply. In one of those cases, a car caught fire and exploded after a high-speed chase ended. A Wisconsin court said that the defendant could not be held liable in restitution for those damages. In the other, law enforcement could not recover for “stop sticks” that were deployed to deflate a fleeing suspect’s tires. The Iowa Supreme Court distinguished exploding cars from cars damaged in PIT maneuvers, calling explosions unforeseeable and stop sticks merely disposable.

“Police vehicles blowing up is not within the scope of risks that arise from a high-speed chase,” wrote Justice Appel.

“And, the stop sticks . . . were purchased by the police department to do exactly what they did, namely, stop cars,” added Justice Appel.

Second, it held that a state law limited restitution to $500 for damages to law enforcement responding after the fact to drunk driving incidents was narrowly, legislatively tailored and thus inapplicable to a high speed chase that didn’t involve OWI (DUI) cases.

Third, it held that a civil law doctrine known as the “Firefighter’s Rule” that bars first responders from suing for damages sustained executing their duties doesn’t apply when criminal negligence continues after the police arrive—as in the Shears case where a high-speed chase continued even as police are directing the eluder to stop.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the Shears case.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for OWI (DUI) or other criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa county or community, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC for a free initial consultation.

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