A police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.
A deputy police officer terminated a high-speed pursuit of the driver's car by applying his push bumper to the rear of the vehicle, causing it to leave the road and crash. The driver was rendered quadriplegic. The driver filed suit for the use of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure. The district court denied the summary judgment motion, which was based on qualified immunity. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the interlocutory appeal taking the driver's view of the facts as a given. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Should the deputy be liable to the driver?
The Supreme Court found that a videotape capturing the events in question quite clearly contradicted the version of the story told by the driver and adopted by the court of appeals. The court of appeals should have viewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape. The deputy did not contest that his decision to terminate the car chase by ramming his bumper into the driver's vehicle constituted a "seizure." A police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatened the lives of innocent bystanders did not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it placed the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death. The car chase that the driver initiated posed a substantial and immediate risk of serious physical injury to others. The deputy's attempt to terminate the chase by forcing the driver off the road was reasonable, and the deputy was entitled to summary judgment.