Laws are supposed to be universal. If you take a look at the U.S. Constitution or the laws on the books of any particular state, you won’t find any disclaimers or asterisks. There won’t be any fine print on laws regarding theft, murder, or even jaywalking for that matter. The most important premise of every single law that exists in the United States is that they apply to everybody.
This is why we were pleased about the judgment that was handed down on Thursday to the family of a University of Maryland student who was killed when an off-duty police officer slammed into his car at 50 mph.
Bear in mind that this accident didn’t happen on the highway. This occurred on a placid suburban street where the speed limit was 25 mph. Brian Gray, the driver of the car that was hit, was pronounced dead at a hospital five hours later.
What made this tragedy even worse was that the victim’s mother was a few car lengths behind her son, and was essentially a witness to his death.
The attorneys for Cpl. Mario Chavez of the Prince Georges County Police Department were attempting to make the argument that the reason the accident happened was because Brian Gray did not properly yield at a stop sign before making a left turn, but according to witnesses Mr. Gray had come to a complete stop before going out into the intersection. The strategy of Cpl. Chavez’ attorneys was to introduce the idea of contributory negligence, which essentially means that the Mr. Gray was at least partially responsible for the harm that he suffered because he did not yield at a stop sign. (To learn about negligence law, please read our negligence page.)
There have been cases where contributory negligence has been presented as a valid defense, but this certainly does not appear to be one of them. As we mentioned, according to all accounts, Brian Gray did in fact come to a complete stop at that intersection. And what really counts here is that Cpl. Chavez was driving at twice the speed limit in a residential neighborhood.
Mr. Gray’s car wasn’t just hit. According to the Washington Post, it was “obliterated.”
You can also factor in that Cpl. Chavez had been out drinking at a nightclub the night before and had only gotten three hours of sleep. This is hardly the condition to be driving at twice the speed limit.
For all we know, Cpl. Chavez might have been an exemplary police officer. There was nothing in his record that stated otherwise. But being a police officer does not place you above the law under any circumstances. Apprehending those who break the law does not give you the right to violate those laws as you see fit. We saw an example of this premise earlier this year when David Baker, the Chief of Police of Alexandria, was arrested for Driving Under the Influence. The Arlington Police did not attempt to cover it up, or keep it in house. They did what was necessary. They took Chief Baker into custody and placed him under arrest.
If Cpl. Chavez had simply been breaking the speed limit and nobody got hurt, this could have been handled with the speeding ticket that he received. But somebody did get hurt. Worse than that, in fact. This case fell squarely under the heading of wrongful death, regardless of whether the defendant was a police officer, or the mayor or a senator for that matter.
In finding for the family of Mr. Gray, the jury backed up the notion that laws are in place for everybody, and that actions have consequences.
At Greenberg and Bederman, we have been helping those in the DC area who have been injured in car accidents for over twenty five years, and we recognize that the law does not have asterisks or loopholes. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a car accident, we will do our best to bring those responsible to account under the law. We are not impressed by the income, status or position of the person responsible for the accident. The only thing that matters to us is that you are treated fairly according to the law.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Maryland, Virginia or Washington, D.C, contact Greenberg and Bederman for a free legal consultation today.