Navigating Police Chases and Liability: Balancing Safety and Pursuit

Navigating Police Chases and Liability: Balancing Safety and Pursuit

Written by: Patrick Brown, Principal Partner, and Jamie Davison, Student-At-Law

The police are not above the law when it comes to road safety – even when pursuing a suspect. While police officers are granted substantial privileges with respect to the rules of the road during such high-stakes situations, the overall purpose of these privileges remains: the protection of public safety. Officers must balance the pursuit of a suspect, who if caught may enhance public safety, and the potential endangerment of the public by engaging in a high-speed chase.

Under specific circumstances and with necessary precautions, officers have the right to disobey traffic signals, speed limits, and road signs during an active pursuit. These privileges are not given arbitrarily but with the goal to reach crime scenes swiftly, curtail violence, and protect our communities. However, with these privileges also comes the profound responsibility to ensure that officers do not inadvertently become the cause of harm while striving to prevent it.

There are established rules and protocols in place to protect the public during police chases, and it is imperative that these guidelines are rigorously followed. In this article, we will delve into the issue of police officers’ liability when their actions lead to collisions during a pursuit. We will explore the delicate balance between the pursuit of justice and the preservation of public safety, shedding light on the measures in place to mitigate risks and uphold accountability in these high-stakes situations.


When an officer attempts to stop a motorist and they fail to obey the police command to pull over, the officer must then decide whether or not to pursue the vehicle. In making this decision, the officer is required to ongoingly assess whether it is safe to pursue the vehicle. This evaluation includes the safety of the officer, the other road users and pedestrians, and the suspect themselves.

Officers engaged in a police chase have been held to owe a duty of care to road users and pedestrians, and the suspect in pursuit. The standard of care owed by these officers is outlined under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA), the Police Services Act, and the Ontario Police College’s Pursuit and Vehicle Operations (PVO) curriculum.

HTA Provisions

The HTA provides crucial guidelines for officers engaging in pursuits. Among the relevant provisions are those pertaining to the conduct of emergency vehicles with respect to traffic control signals.

  • Section 144(1) of the HTA outlines that an “emergency vehicle” used by a police officer in the lawful performance of their duties must have a siren continuously sounding and intermittent flashes of red or red and blue light visible in all directions. This distinguishes their vehicle from civilian traffic.
  • Section 144(18) of the HTA stipulates that every driver approaching a circular red traffic control signal must come to a complete stop and wait until a green indication is shown before proceeding. However, Section 144(20) carves out an exception for emergency vehicle drivers (see s. 144(1) above for the pre-requisites required for a vehicle to be considered an “emergency vehicle”). Emergency vehicles may proceed without a green indication if it is safe to do so, but only after coming to a full stop.

Ontario Police College Pursuit and Vehicle Operations (PVO) Curriculum

As part of the Ontario Police College curriculum, officers go through “pursuit and vehicle operations” training. The rules taught emphasize the delicate balance officers must strike between enforcing the law and ensuring public safety during pursuits. As part of enforcing the HTA, the above provisions are broken down to four rules that officers must follow during a police chase:

  1. The police cruiser must be brought to a full stop.
  2. Emergency lights (visible in all directions) must be activated.
  3. A siren must be continuously sounding.
  4. The officer may proceed ONLY if it is safe to do so.

Police Services Act

Under the Police Services Act, a regulation was passed in 2010 titled Ontario Regulation 226/10: Suspect Apprehension Pursuits. This regulation outlines specific rules required of officers when engaging in the pursuit of a suspect including: the conditions that must be present before an officer may initiate a pursuit (section 2), the notice that must be provided to dispatch that a pursuit is underway (section 3), and the requirement of each police services board to establish policies about suspect apprehension (section 5).


What does the consistency between these rules tell us? To break them would be a breach of the duty of care officers owe to the public and for such a breach, they can be held liable.

Recently, a crash occurred as a result of a police chase where officers were in pursuit of a suspect fleeing a liquor store robbery in Bowmanville. The suspect was chased by police onto Highway 401 in the opposite direction of traffic, causing a collision which resulted in the death of an infant, the grandparents of the child, and the suspect.

In this case, the officers involved may potentially face civil liability for several reasons:

  1. Engaging in and Continuing a High-Speed Chase: If it can be established that the officers knew or ought to have known that the pursuit would endanger members of the public, they could be held liable for recklessly engaging in or continuing the chase.
  2. Causing Escalation to a Dangerous Situation: Officers have a duty to prevent situations from escalating to a point of danger whenever possible. If it can be demonstrated that the officers’ actions were unreasonable and contributed to an escalation that could have been prevented, they may be held liable.
  3. Failing to Comply with Police Services Act and Regulation 266/10: For example, if any of the involved officers are determined to have initiated a suspect apprehension pursuit without first determining that there were no alternatives available, this would be contrary to section 2(2) of Regulation 266/10 and could result in civil liability.

Delalis v. Nepean (City)[1] shed light on the responsibilities of law enforcement officers in emergency situations. In this case, an officer was responding to an emergency call in a police cruiser when they collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle after running a red light. The Ontario Court of Justice ruled that the officer’s actions were not only contrary to established police training protocols but also violated the Highway Traffic Act. The officer had been driving at an excessive speed while approaching a blind intersection and was late in activating the emergency signals and applying the brakes. Consequently, the officer was held liable for negligence in causing the accident. Significantly, the court determined that the plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for failing to notice the cruiser’s flashing lights before entering the intersection.

Police chases are intricate situations that demand a delicate balance between law enforcement and public safety. Officers must adhere to regulations and internal protocols to mitigate potential harm and civil liability. Through the use of police experts and forensic engineers, we at McLeish Orlando LLP have obtained successful results for our clients where we have established police negligence. At the present, we continue to pursue justice for those family members who have lost a loved one and those seriously injured in these cases.

If you, or someone you love, has been injured by a police officer, please do not hesitate to contact our offices for a free consultation.  Personal injury lawyers at McLeish Orlando have both the resources and experience to help.

[1] Delalis v. Nepean (City), 1997 CarswellOnt 3480, [1997] O.J. No. 3624, 43 O.T.C. 241, 73 A.C.W.S. (3d) 784

Patrick Brown


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