Legal Memorandum: Police Officers' Duty of Care

Issue: What standard of care do police officers owe to third-parties when conducting vehicular pursuits in New York?

Area of Law: Government Claims, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Duty of care; Police officers; Standard of reasonableness
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 534 N.W.2d 388; 228 A.D.2d 572
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2000

The police owe a general duty of care to the public at large and must meet a standard of reasonableness toward third parties when involved in vehicular pursuits. 


While . . . a police vehicle in actual pursuit of a criminal will not be held to the same degree of care as one which is merely cruising around, it has also been asserted that in . . . overtaking a speeding motorist a policeman must exercise even more than ordinary care in avoiding traffic.  The true rule, however, would seem to be that the standard of care which the law requires is the same for drivers of police vehicles as for drivers of ordinary vehicles, the standard being such care as a prudent man would exercise in the discharge of official duties of a like nature under like circumstances. 

60A C.J.S. Motor Vehicles § 375 (1997).  Based on this reasonableness standard, courts hold that without a showing of reckless disregard for the safety of third parties, a police officer may not be held personally liable for injuries to bystanders.  Id.; see also Powell v. City of Mount Vernon, 228 A.D.2d 572, 644 N.Y.S.2d 766 (App. Div. 2d Dep’t 1996); Morris v. […]

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