Police Chase Case Ends In $727,000 Settlement

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Laricha Langley, et al. v. City of New Haven, et al.: A teenager who was seriously injured after a Jeep being chased by a police cruiser crashed into her vehicle at more than 60 mph has settled her lawsuit for $727,000.

Laricha Langley, then a 17-year-old high school senior, was a passenger in an automobile heading southbound on Orchard Street in New Haven at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2006, according to her lawyer, John J. Kennedy, of Kennedy, Johnson, Schwab & Roberge in New Haven.

That afternoon, New Haven police were looking for Jasper Sullivan. Kennedy said officers received a tip from an undercover cop that Sullivan was in possession of illegal drugs and was driving a red Jeep Grand Cherokee.

After police located the vehicle, officers in a marked police cruiser were directed to stop the red Jeep. The responding officers were not told why Sullivan was wanted, Kennedy said. In fact, the attorney said, the officers had no idea who was operating the Jeep until after it was involved in the crash.

Officers caught up with the Jeep at the intersection of Goffe and Orchard streets, but Sullivan did not pull over and instead attempted to evade the officers, Kennedy said. At speeds exceeding 60 mph, more than one cruiser pursued Sullivan. At the corner of Goffe and Webster streets, Sullivan's Jeep sideswiped a vehicle and continued on. At one point, the Jeep reportedly sped down a one-way street, the police close behind.

On Orchard Street, police tried to pass the Jeep, but Sullivan moved into the oncoming lane of traffic to try to block the cruiser. In doing so, he smashed into the vehicle in which Langley was riding.

"The collision was unbelievable," said Kennedy, noting that both vehicles were totaled to the extent it made him wonder how anyone survived. "[Langley] was trapped in the car for a period of time after the collision."

Despite the violent crash, Sullivan popped right out of his vehicle and began to run away from the police officers, who eventually caught him. It turned out that Sullivan was in possession of some marijuana and a gun. In all, Sullivan faced 22 charges, including reckless endangerment, engaging an officer in a pursuit and other motor vehicle offenses.

According to the state Judicial Branch website, Sullivan was sentenced to 102 months in jail for the drug charges and five years for the weapon offense. The sentences ran concurrently.

Kennedy, meanwhile, said that Langley's doctor had never seen injuries like the ones she suffered. Specifically, the doctor testified in a deposition, he had never seen a crash impact fracture both of someone's hips. Langley also suffered what Kennedy described as severe fractures to her right ankle and multiple breaks in her left leg.

Kennedy said Langley initially spent about a week in the hospital and had hip surgery. She was then taken to a rehabilitation facility to wait for the swelling in her legs to go down so she could have another surgery on the ankle and left leg. Her doctor predicts she will need either an ankle replacement or a fusion surgery in the future, Kennedy said. It is also expected that she will develop arthritis in the injured areas.

To date, Langley's medical bills exceed $146,000.

Langley finally went home about a month after the accident, received home-schooling and still graduated high school with her classmates, hobbling across the stage on crutches at her commencement in 2006.

Langley is now 25 and working as a licensed practical nurse. She is also back in school pursuing a more advanced nursing degree. "Her goal is to get more educated so she can get into positions that require less standing, bending, twisting, that sort of thing," said Kennedy. "She has a young child… She's a pretty impressive kid who had a really tough time and has done a remarkable job getting better and changing her life to comport with what her injuries are."

Kennedy sued the city of New Haven on Langley's behalf, charing that the officers failed to comply with procedures regarding suspect pursuits. Kennedy explained that New Haven officers are not allowed to engage in a high-speed chase through downtown unless they are pursuing someone accused of a serious felony, such as kidnapping, rape or murder.

Kennedy said that the drug offenses Sullivan was suspected of did not rise to that level. The attorney said he had an out-of-state expert ready to testify about pursuit protocols had the case proceeded to trial this month, as initially scheduled.

The city of New Haven was defended by Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Wolack. Wolack argued that the police were not actually chasing the suspect. "Their position on it was that they hadn't instituted a pursuit so they hadn't violated any protocol," said Kennedy.

However, Kennedy said a number of witnesses said the police cruiser hit speeds of 60 to 90 mph, and even went down the one-way street in pursuit of Sullivan. "There was lots of evidence that indicated there was in fact a chase going on from independent third parties," said Kennedy.

The case went to mediation last month before Superior Court Judge Terence Zemetis. The two sides ultimately opted to settle the case for $727,000 than go to trial.

Victor Bolden, corporation counsel for New Haven, said the city had to weigh whether it was better to pay the relatively large settlement or risk going to trial and possibly being hit with an even larger verdict. "This was one where we're trying to reach a resolution here," said Bolden. "I think at the end of the day, it's more than we want [to pay] but certainly less than what may happen."

Bolden declined to discuss the merits of the case, stating that once the cases are officially settled the city "moves on."•

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