LINNDALE, Ohio — The moment a Brooklyn police cruiser slammed into the back of a truck stopped on the side of the road earlier this month was caught on both the truck driver's dashcam and the officer's, but because of an Ohio law, the citizen is fully responsible for the damage to his truck.
Karol Pilichiewicz and his 2-year-old daughter Emilia were inside the car and were not injured.
“Well, February 4, I was driving to go see my dad like I do every Friday with my daughter,” said Pilichiewicz.
Pilichiewicz said they take the same route all the time by making a right on Bellaire Road in Linndale to the 1-71 South on-ramp.
That day, he said he saw three Brooklyn police cars behind him with their lights and sirens on and pulled to the right to let them pass. In his dashcam video, the first two can be seen passing by his 2020 Dodge Ram pick-up truck without a problem, but the third crashes into the back.
Pilichiewicz said he then jumped out of the car and the video shows him running around the back of the truck to get to Emilia. The officer can then be seen getting out of his car and Pilichiewicz said he asked if they both were okay. Fortunately, they were.
“That was my only thing. My only concern—I didn't care what anything else was happening around me—was to get her out and make sure she was okay,” said Pilichiewicz.
Dashcam video from Brooklyn Police shows the crash from the officer’s perspective. According to Chief Scott Mielke, the officers were responding to a flipped car call on I-71. He said there isn’t an on-ramp to the highway in Brooklyn, so they got on southbound at Bellaire to turn around at West 130th Street to go northbound. He said icy, snowy conditions caused that officer to lose control and crash into the back of Pilichiewicz’s truck.
Pilichiewicz said more officers and EMA came to check them out and take his insurance details. Then, he got a ride home. The next day, he said he and Emilia got checked out at an emergency room. Pilichiewicz said while he has some soreness, Emilia is doing fine.
Then, four or five days later, Pilichiewicz said he got a call from the insurance company representing the police department saying they’re not responsible for his now totaled truck.
“I did what I needed to do. I pulled over and I got hit and I'm the one now responsible for all the financials,” said Pilichiewicz.
That’s because of section 2744.02 in the Ohio Revised Code which provides officers immunity if they cause a crash while they’re operating a vehicle and responding to an emergency call.
The section states as follows:
(B) Subject to sections 2744.03 and 2744.05 of the Revised Code, a political subdivision is liable in damages in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property allegedly caused by an act or omission of the political subdivision or of any of its employees in connection with a governmental or proprietary function, as follows:
(1) Except as otherwise provided in this division, political subdivisions are liable for injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the negligent operation of any motor vehicle by their employees when the employees are engaged within the scope of their employment and authority. The following are full defenses to that liability:
(a) A member of a municipal corporation police department or any other police agency was operating a motor vehicle while responding to an emergency call and the operation of the vehicle did not constitute willful or wanton misconduct;
“They're basically immune from any lawsuits, unless they were acting recklessly or maliciously or in bad faith,” said Prof. Jessie Hill, a professor of law and associate dean at Case Western Reserve University.
Hill said proving recklessness is an uphill battle.
“Recklessness is something more than just being negligent, being careless or something like that. It's kind of a level of really extreme carelessness,” said Hill.
Pilichiewicz said he’s reached out to several lawyers and they’ve all said they can’t help him because of the law. Now, he’s on the hook for his own deductible and buying a new ride.
“I’m just a blue-collar guy. You know, thousands of dollars is a lot of money out of my pocket to go buy a truck,” said Pilichiewicz. “I was proud of that truck. You know, that was something I had, you know, it's nice and I was proud of it. Now I'm back to square one. And that's it.”
Seemingly out of options, he posted the videos and photos of the crash on social media to bring awareness to the situation and the law that he thinks should change.
“What if I didn't make it out of there? What if my daughter didn't make it out of there? They're not liable?” said Pilichiewicz. “You cause an accident, be responsible for it. I don't care if you're the law or not, you caused the accident.”
Chief Mielke declined to do an on-camera interview but provided the police report for this case, dashcam video, and details via email. He said the department contacted its insurance carrier, notified them of the crash, and it is handling the claims. He said its insurance adjusters will be relying on section 2744.02 in the Ohio Revised Code during the process.
He also said, “this was an unfortunate crash and we are relieved that no one was seriously injured.”
As for Pilichiewicz, he said he doesn’t know if he will pursue further legal action.
Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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