CHICAGO (CBS) — A man says he was hurt in a crash and his car was badly damaged.
He insists it wasn’t his fault. But as CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported Friday morning, his lawyer won’t even pursue it, because the other driver was a police officer who would likely be protected from liability.
Aaron Travis’ car was smashed and its airbags were deployed at 113th Street and Michigan Avenue. He doesn’t need pictures to remember the crash last August.
“A police car came out of nowhere from out of nowhere and hit me, and twist my car around – with no lights on or nothing,” Travis said.
A police report said a CPD officer was following another car, described as a “vehicle of interest (possibly involved in a shooting).”
The officer “did not have his emergency equipment activated.” He said he slowed down his marked police cruiser and proceeded with caution as he crossed the street from an alley, but he claimed he was struck by Travis’ car around 6 p.m. that evening.
The officer also said he did not see Travis coming because parked cars and bushes blocked his view.
“He just popped up. When he popped up, boom!” Travis said. “Hit my car, turned it around, and made it go toward the alley.”
Travis’ daughter took him to the hospital hours after the crash, and around 1 a.m., he was diagnosed with a chest contusion, leg contusion, and lower back strain.
He was already in a wheelchair due to prior medical issues, but Travis said injuries from the crash made it even harder for him to get around, and he’s still recovering.
“I’m real limited,” Travis said.
His lawyer told him the city probably wouldn’t pay for his car damage or medical bills.
“Saying something, they’re immune to lawsuit,” Travis said.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said the lawyer provided “good advice.”
Miller agrees the case likely wouldn’t hold up in court, because police officers are protected by a legal doctrine called tort immunity. That means to be held responsible, an officer would have to be willful in causing the property damage.
“Was this officer acting reasonably? Maybe not. Was he negligent? Probably,” Miller said. “But was he acting willful and wanton thoughts? I don’t think so.”
Miller said the point of the law is to protect taxpayers from repeatedly dishing out large sums of money. Through April of this year, the CPD paid out just over $40,000 in a total of seven property damage claims.
“If this were you or I pulling out of that alley, instead of a police car, would this guy be getting compensation, do you think?” McNicholas asked Miller.
“This guy would be getting paid either by you or your insurance company,” Miller said.
Travis added, “It hurts right now, you know?”
Miller said another reason for the law is that without it, people could be discouraged from becoming police officers because they might be worried about possible judgments against them.
The police report in this case did not include list any determination on who was at fault.
Not everything is immune. Last year, the city paid out more than $55 million in various CPD claims.