When I heard about Friday’s fatal news-helicopter collision in Phoenix, one of the first things I thought — perhaps unsurprisingly, since I was just coming off the bar exam — was whether wrongful-death liability could attach to the carjacker who initiated the police chase that the news choppers were covering when they crashed. Is it sufficiently foreseeable that a car chase in a major city could lead to a news-helicopter crash? Is it the type of harm that a reasonable person should anticipate? (There’s a joke in here somewhere, in very poor taste of course, about “negligence in the air.”) What about contributory negligence? Assumption of risk? Etc., etc. I babbled a bit about these things to Becky, Kristy, V and Shannon (who were, by this point, accustomed to being subject to my pre- and post-exam law nerdery), without coming to any definitive conclusions; it’s not like I was going to write an essay about it. But I did think it was kind of an interesting question.
Well, it turns out I wasn’t the only one. V sent me this Slate article about essentially the same topic — though the authors focused on criminal, not civil, penalties. I hadn’t even thought about the potential applicability of felony-murder statutes, but yeah. The article notes:
The county attorney technically can charge the fleeing suspect with four counts of murder, but it’s unclear how strong the argument would be in practice. A judge might decide not to apply felony murder because the cause of the crash was only loosely related to the chase. Or a jury might acquit the driver because he couldn’t possibly have foreseen these outcomes. In other words, a reasonable person could expect traffic deaths to result from a car chase. But it might be unreasonable to expect a car chase to cause a collision between choppers pursuing a breaking news story.
It might. Or it might not. I mean, if you live in L.A., Phoenix, or some other major western city, shouldn’t you be aware that car chases are pretty much always televised? Anyway, interesting stuff, at least for those who haven’t sworn off all discussion of law-related topics for the next month of their lives. :)