Stolen Car Death Lawsuit Raises Complex Questions

Last year, three Tampa Bay families faced a complicated tragedy. Three young women, ages 15 and 16, were killed when their car plunged into a pond. The car became submerged in at least 15 feet of water, trapped amid heavy mud and weeds. Speaking at a press conference following their deaths last year, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtiere called the incident “a horrific event.” It’s horrifying indeed, but the accident comes with a complex caveat: at the time of their deaths, the girls were driving a stolen vehicle.

Accident Overview

The incident began when the girls stole a stranger’s car. Hours later, a deputy with the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Office spotted the car, which was driving at night with no headlights. After running the tags, the office realized that it was a stolen vehicle.

In Florida, deputies cannot pursue stolen vehicles, unless a dangerous felony is involved. They can, though, follow the car from a distance, which is exactly what they did. Seeing the police, the girls drove the stolen vehicle into a cemetery, perhaps attempting to find a shortcut to Interstate 275. On a sharp turn on the cemetery road, the car drove into the pond. On-scene officers claim they attempted to save the girls, but were hindered by darkness, mud, and weeds.

Now, a year after the accident, the families of the young women are suing the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department. They believe that the on-scene officers did not do enough to save the girls. Reviews of dash-cam footage have been unable to determine if the officers actually entered the water, but the officers maintain that they did all they could to save the girls. They also believe that the police officers essentially cornered the girls in the cemetery, forcing them into the pond with nowhere else to go. Since they believe the girls died as a result of the negligent and reckless actions of the Pinellas Sheriff’s Department, they are filing a wrongful death suit.

Grounds For A Lawsuit?

Is there any grounds to a lawsuit like this? Like many other cases, it probably depends heavily on evidence and circumstance. However, in general, police officers are not liable for injuries to the people they are pursuing. Law-enforcement officers have broad powers to carry out their duties. Additionally, they do not have a duty to the alleged wrongdoers. Negligence, or the failure to exercise due care, usually isn’t enough to hold an officer liable for injuries or death.

Of course,everyone deserves dignity and respect. Even serious criminals still have rights, and they are free to exercise them. But whether or not they can hold someone liable for their injuries is a complicated matter. As they pursue their lawsuit, the families of the young women will likely face hardship and controversy. In the end, though, they believe it will be worth the hard fight to learn the truth.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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