A 57 year-old woman was killed in an Erie car accident when a Pennsylvania State Trooper failed to stop for a STOP sign yesterday morning, according to news reports. The accident occurred near 3:30 a.m. Saturday when Trooper Frederick Schimp drove through a controlled intersection at Sterrettania Road and Route 98 in Fairview without stopping or yielding and collided with a vehicle being operated by Donna Platz of Edinboro.
Early reports indicate that Ms. Platz was northbound on Route 98 and had the right-of-way at the intersection. Trooper Schimp, who was not responding to an emergency call, was westbound on Sterrettania Road.
An accident reconstruction expert who is also a Pennsylvania State Trooper was called to the accident scene to assist in the fatal car accident investigation and the vehicles were taken into possession by the State Police. The coroner has reported that an autopsy is going to be performed because “That’s protocol any time police or firefighters or public servants are involved in a death.”
Accidents involving policemen present unique legal and investigatory challenges. Special laws provide for qualified immunity of the policeman and the state although there is an exception to this immunity for car accidents. The same laws limit the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the official investigators are also policemen and there can be a bias that affects the nature and results of the investigation. Cases like this one often seem like “open and shut” cases but we have seen such cases frequently become more complicated than they seem at first blush. A prompt and independent investigation can be critically important in identifying and preserving relevant evidence.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Platz’ family during this difficult time.