AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
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Public Protection: Motoring Public & Pedestrians
estates of two people killed in a drunk driving accident on a Native American
reservation sued the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act
(FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2674, arguing that tribal police were negligent in failing
to locate and arrest the drunk driver prior to the accident. A federal
appeals court upheld the dismissal of the claim, finding that, under South
Dakota law, applicable to the defendant under the FTCA, there was no mandatory
duty on police to protect a particular person or class of people absent
a special relationship. The tribal police in this case did nothing that
increased the risk of harm to the decedents by failing to arrest the drunk
driver after his erratic driving was reported. Sorace v. United States,
#14-2683, 788 F.3d 758 (8th Cir. 2015).
After an SUV collided with a center divider, a 911 operator allegedly told callers that California Highway Patrol officers were on the way. The 911 operator did not put into the computer that the disabled SUV was blocking traffic lanes, as a result of which the call was assigned to a patrol unit that was further away, rather than one close by. A Greyhound bus subsequently collided with the SUV, resulting in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits by passengers. Greyhound argued the 911 operator's actions had helped cause the second accident. Rejecting liability, an intermediate California appeals court ruled that the California Highway Patrol had no duty to come to anyone's aid in the absence of a special relationship entered into because an officer's affirmative acts caused the peril or increased it, but no such special relationship existed with the injured bus passengers. Greyhound Lines v. Department of the California Highway Patrol, #F063590, 2013 Cal. App. Lexis 117.
A jury found state troopers not liable for the death of a motorcyclist struck by another motorcycle at a roadblock that had been created to stop speeding motorcycles. The appeals court upheld this verdict and rejected the argument that the jury should have received instructions concerning the use of deadly force and what justifies its use. There was no indication that the troopers used any force likely to have deadly effects, so such an instruction would have been improper. A traffic stop of cars to prevent speeding motorcycles from racing down a highway is not the equivalent of firing a gun at a person. A general instruction about excessive force, with no mention of deadly force or its requirements was adequate. Terranova v. State of New York, #09-5025, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 7587 (2nd Cir.).
An intoxicated driver struck a motorist who had been lying injured on the road after his own apparent alcohol-related accident. He sued two highway patrolmen who responded to his accident for failure to protect him from the intoxicated driver. A federal appeals court upheld summary judgment for the defendants, as the evidence did not show that they had taken the plaintiff into custody and held him against his will, triggering a duty to protect him. The officers did not move the motorist, awaiting the arrival of an ambulance, as they feared he had suffered a spinal injury, but they did attempt to stop the oncoming vehicle driven by the intoxicated driver, who ignored their directions. Dodd v. Jones, #09-2016; 623 F.3d 563 (8th Cir. 2010).
An officer who served as a crash investigator was dispatched to the scene of an accident that took place between a female motorist and a male motorcycle rider. The officer, who observed the motorcycle rider lying face down after having been thrown and landing head first on the street, believed that he was dead. Other officers were already on the scene. He later claimed that the female motorist, while "a little shaken up," had told him that she was not injured. He handed back her driver's license, registration, and insurance card, and suggested that she could leave her disabled car at the parking lot of a nearby gas station, which she did. The officer returned to his vehicle to complete paperwork, and did not inquire as to how the motorist was getting home or offer to assist her in doing so. The elderly female motorist declined an offer from the gas station attendant to drive her home if she would wait there until closing time, and she stated that she could walk home. As she attempted to do so, she was struck by a hit and run driver as she crossed a street, suffering serious injuries, and was hospitalized for various surgeries and treatments until she died. A lawsuit against the township and officer contended that they were responsible for her injuries at the hands of the hit and run driver by "abandoning" her at the scene of the first accident. The trial court and intermediate appeals court entered summary judgment for the defendants, finding them immune from liability for the officer's performance of discretionary acts at the scene of the first accident. The courts rejected an argument that the officer negligently performed ministerial duties in connection with the accident, for which state law does not provide immunity, since the female motorist had not asked him to provide aid. This was also not a case in which the motorist was plainly incapacitated, so that even if the officer was not exercising discretion, there was no evidence that he "negligently performed a ministerial task." Pappas v. Union Township, #A-5850-08T2, 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. Lexis 2054 (A.D.).
A motorist was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under suspension. Released from jail the following afternoon, he returned to the police station to retrieve his vehicle. Finding no "hold" on the vehicle, an officer authorized its release. The next morning, the motorist drove his vehicle while intoxication and collided with another motorist's car, resulting in the death of both drivers. The estate of the other motorist sued officers, claiming that they had breached duties to him by failing to remove license plates from his car and by releasing the vehicle to him. The plaintiff claimed that state statutes required that the vehicle be held until the intoxicated motorist's court appearance, since he had been driving on a suspended license, and that another statute required that the vehicle remain impounded because of his DUI conviction within the prior six-year period. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the officers could not receive summary judgment based on the "public duty rule," since the plaintiff estate claimed more than mere negligence and argued that the officers acted in a reckless and wanton manner. Estate of Graves v. City of Circleville, #2009-0014, 2010 Ohio Lexis 60.
Police officer's alleged failure to remove a drunk driver, a fellow officer, from the road, was insufficient to impose liability on him for injuries others later suffered when they were hit by his car. A federal appeals court found that the officer's alleged failure to act did not "create" the danger, and that the drunken officer would have been in the same condition even if he had not encountered his fellow officer. Bilbili v. Klein, No. 05-3496, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 20694 (3rd Cir.).
A motorist claimed that she was injured while moving her disabled vehicle, after she was instructed to do so by a police officer who believed that it posed a traffic hazard on a busy road. The car lacked power, but the officer allegedly told her to "just put it in neutral and push it back, steering with the steering wheel. "He allegedly told her that if she did not move it, it would be towed. She was injured when it started rolling backwards down the incline of a driveway, dragging her face first and face down, down a hill, until it collided with some trees. A federal appeals court reversing a jury award of $1 in nominal damages and a trial court award of attorneys' fees, found that no reasonable and properly instructed jury could have found a violation of constitutional rights under either the Fourth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause under these circumstances. Lockhart-Bembery v. Sauro, No. 06-1720, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 18844 (1st Cir.).
Officers were entitled to qualified immunity for failing to prevent an illegal drag race that resulted in injuries when a car crashed into a crowd of spectators. While the officers allegedly arrived on the scene approximately an hour before the race began, and were alleged to have told participants to "go ahead with the race" and that they were not there to arrest anyone, there could be no liability under either a "state-created danger" theory or a "direct injury" theory. The plaintiffs failed to show, for purposes of the "direct injury" theory of liability, that the officers acted for the purpose of causing harm, even though the alleged conduct, if true, demonstrated "incredibly poor judgment" by the officers. For purposes of the "state-created danger" theory of liability, the court found that a prior decision involving a death in the same drag race, Jones v. Reynolds, #04-2320, 438 F.3d 685 (6th Cir 2006), was controlling. In that prior decision, the appeals court found that there was no evidence that the officers knew or had reason to know that the decedent "specifically was in any more danger than any other citizen in the area that evening," and therefore could not be said to have placed the decedent in the danger which resulted in her death. This same analysis, the court found, applied to the claims of the plaintiffs, who were allegedly injured by the same car that killed the decedent. Draw v. City of Lincoln Park, No. 06-1959, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 14707 (6th Cir.).
City was not liable for the death of an elderly motorist struck by a number of vehicles while trying to cross a highway on foot to get back to his van, which had run out of gas. He was attempting to do so before the city towed his vehicle under a program it had commenced under which it attempted to tow stalled vehicles from city freeways after a few minutes in order to prevent obstacles to the flow of traffic. A federal trial court rejected the plaintiff estate's argument that the towing program violated the equal protection rights of elderly and disabled drivers. Such motorists, the court found, were not a protected class for equal protection purposes, and there was no fundamental right to be free from having a disabled vehicle towed from the highway. Estate of Kahng v. City of Houston, No. H-07-0402, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 30922 (S.D. Tex.).
City and police officers were not liable, under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, for the death of a child struck as he crossed a street on foot by a vehicle that an officer lent to an informant. The appeals court ruled that, even if the city had a custom of encouraging officers to provide vehicles to informants with known histories of alcohol or drug use in exchange for information, that was insufficient for liability. Persons allegedly placed in danger as a result of those actions were not intentionally or recklessly placed in such danger, nor were the alleged actions conscience shocking. The appeals court also rejected claims based on an alleged failure to adequately investigate the accident, since there was no statutory, common law, or constitutional right to an investigation. Mitchell v. McNeil, No. 06-5631, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 11326 (6th Cir.).
Officers who confronted allegedly intoxicated female motorist in the driveway of her estranged boyfriend's house were not liable, on the basis of the failure to detain her, for her subsequent accident, which occurred while she was speeding, intoxicated, and running a red light, which resulted in a person's death. The officers' actions or failure to act did not either create or enhance the risk that the motorist's intoxicated driving would result in an injury. Koulta v. Merchez, No. 06-1539, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 4127 (6th Cir.).[N/R]
Police officer and police chief were not liable under federal civil rights law for injuries U.S. Customs officer suffered when he was struck by a city police department vehicle being driven by an escaped arrestee. Rios v. City of Del Rio, No. 04-50774, 444 F.3d 417 (5th Cir. 2006). [2006 LR Sep]
City was not liable for damages to injured passenger and estate of deceased passenger injured when their vehicle was struck by participants in an illegal street race. The plaintiffs failed to show that the roadway where the race was conducted was "inherently" defective, and there was no evidence linking the alleged absence or inadequacy of lighting on the road to the conduct of the racers. Additionally, the damages were caused by the conduct of third parties, and were unrelated to the condition of city property. City of San Diego v. Superior Court, No. D046281, 40 Cal. Rptrs. 3d 26 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2006). [N/R]
Tow truck driver struck by oncoming vehicle after extracting damaged car from a ditch at the scene of an accident failed to show that California Highway Patrol officers did anything wrong to create or enhance the risk of harm to him. Officers owed him no duty of protection against being struck by traffic. Officer Safety Manual, which was not adopted as a regulation, created no duty to protect. Minch v. California Highway Patrol, No. C050338, 2006 Cal. App. Lexis 924. [2006 LR Aug]
State troopers owed no duty to auto accident victims at icy spot on an interstate highway, since they were not aware of them and had left the scene after handling three earlier accidents there. State police could not, therefore, be held liable for the accident victims' injuries on a theory that the troopers caused their accident by failing to control and direct traffic around the icy spot. Daubenspeck v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 894 A.2d 867 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006). [N/R]
Police officer was not entitled to summary judgment on motorist's claim that he was negligent in requiring that she move her inoperable car from the road without providing her with assistance, resulting in her losing control of the vehicle as she pushed it and being dragged down a steep embankment, suffering serious injuries. Court also denies summary judgment to officer on federal civil rights claim alleging that his actions shocked the conscience and created or increased the danger of her being injured. Lockhart-Bembert v. Town of Wayland Police Dept., No. CIV.A. 04-10581, 404 F. Supp. 2d 373 (D. Mass. 2005). [N/R]
Officer who pursued motorist into crowded downtown area could not be held liable for injuries pedestrian suffered when pursued driver took his car onto the sidewalk. Officer, who did not even exceed the speed limit while following the car, could not be said to have acted in a willful and wanton manner under Illinois law, as required for liability. Wade v. City of Chicago, No. 1-04-0642, 2006 Ill. App. Lexis 201. [2006 LR May]
Police officers were not liable for a bystander's death at a street drag race when they did not have custody of the decedent when the accident occurred, and had not placed her in any additional danger than she voluntarily assumed before the officers arrived on the scene. This remained true even if they had an opportunity to stop the drag race from occurring and failed to do so. Jones v. Reynolds, No. 04-2320, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 4940 (6th Cir.). [2006 LR Apr]
Police officers and supervisors' alleged encouragement and "active facilitation" of off-duty officer's drunken driving during twelve-hour drinking binge could constitute a "state-created danger" violating the due process constitutional rights of a pregnant woman, her fetus, and two others struck and killed by the off-duty officer as he sped through a red light. Individual defendants were, however, entitled to qualified immunity from liability, as the law on the issue was not clearly established in 2001. Pena v. Deprisco, No. 03-7876, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 26911 (2d Cir.). [2006 LR Feb]
City of New York was not liable for injuries suffered by parade spectators struck by a vehicle in the parade, based on a theory that the police department had been negligent in screening vehicles participating in the parade. Even if the city had assumed a duty to screen the vehicles, there was no special relationship between the city and the spectators injured, and therefore no special duty to protect the plaintiffs against harm. Armstrong v. Scott, 801 N.Y.S.2d 822 (A.D. 2nd Dept. 2005). [N/R]
City could not be held liable for either injuries suffered by pedestrian struck by car or injuries suffered by motorist when police officer ordered motorist to move her car forward after accident and she moved it backwards instead, crushing the pedestrian's legs. There was no special relationship between the pedestrian and the officer, and they had no direct contact with each other. In a second case, a county could not be held liable for injuries a motorist suffered after being told by an officer to move his car to a nearby service station, despite the motorist's statement that he had chest pains and was not feeling well. The motorist subsequently lost control of his car and suffered serious injuries after driving it into a guardrail and a telephone pole. The motorist did not, the court noted, tell the officer that he was too ill to drive, and "we cannot expect the police to make a refined, expert medical diagnosis of a motorist's latent condition." Kovit v. Estate of Hallums, 829 N.E.2d 1188 (N.Y. 2005). [N/R]
New York's highest court, in two cases involving police interactions with motorists, finds that there was no special relationship with injured parties and the officers, barring liability for failure to protect them. City was therefore not liable for injuries to man struck by car when officer instructed motorist to move at the scene of an accident, and county was not liable for injuries ill motorist suffered when he lost control of his vehicle after officer instructed him to move it from the side of the highway. Kovit v. Estate of Hallums, #62, 63, 2005 N.Y. Lexis 1057. [2005 LR Jul]
Police officer questioning motorist at the side of his vehicle at the site of a multi-vehicle collision could not be held liable for injuries he suffered when another car going by pinned to motorist against his car. The officer made a discretionary decision not to use flares or cones for the purpose of redirecting traffic around the accident scene. In asking the motorist to speak to her at the scene of the accident for purposes of an investigation, she did not take the motorist into custody or make him surrender his freedom of movement or judgment. Lassiter v. Cohn, No. COA04-672, 607 S.E.2d 688 (N.C. App. 2005). [N/R]
No liability for death of motorcycle driver and injuries to motorcycle passenger based on deputy sheriff's earlier failure to arrest motorist who did not have a valid driver's license. Unlicensed driver, who drove away from the encounter with the deputy, subsequently collided with the motorcycle. Deputy owed no special duty to protect the motorcycle driver or passenger, but only a duty to the general public, which was insufficient to impose liability under Georgia state law. Holcomb v. Walden, No. A04A2333, 607 S.E.2d 893 (Ga. App. 2004). [N/R]
Motorist who allegedly was injured when a police officer directed him to move his vehicle off of the shoulder of an expressway was not required to show that there was a special relationship between the officer and himself in order to pursue a claim against the county which employed the officer. The officer's alleged negligent conduct was properly characterized as "misfeasance rather than nonfeasance," so not showing of a special relationship was required, as there would be for imposing liability for failing to act to provide protection to an individual. The court also found that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the officer was negligent under the circumstances. Lazan v. County of Suffolk, 783 N.Y.S.2d 70 (A.D. 2nd Dept. 2004). [N/R]
When the Florida highway patrol assured a man who reported stalled vehicle on an expressway that an officer would be dispatched to the scene, it assumed no duty to motorists who subsequently died when they collided with the stalled vehicle after no officer was sent.Pollock v. Fla. Dept. of Highway Patrol, No. SC99-8, SC99-41, 2004 Fla. Lexis 902 (Fla. 2004) [2004 LR Jul]
Motorist allegedly injured because state police officers negligently failed to replace extinguished road flares at the scene of an accident failed to show any "special relationship" between himself and the state of New York which would impose any duty to take reasonable measures to protect him. Eckert v. State of N.Y., 771 N.Y.S. 2d 132 (A.D. 2d Dept. 2004). [N/R]
State troopers were not liable for death of motorist struck by out of control vehicle as she took field sobriety test at the side of the highway. Estate of George v. Michigan, 63 Fed. Appx. 208 (6th Cir. 2003), upholding Estate of George v. Michigan, 136 F. Supp. 2d 695 (E.D. Mich. 2001), previously reported in the September 2001 Liability Reporter. [N/R]
Police officers were entitled to qualified immunity on a claim that they violated the due process rights of a motorcyclist by ordering him to ride his bike away from a restaurant premises despite his allegedly intoxicated condition at the time. The officers exercised their discretion in good faith in making a determination as to the degree of his impairment at the time, and therefore were not liable for his subsequent death. Morris v. Johnson, No. A03A0111, 585 S.E.2d 375 (Ga. App. 2003). [N/R]
Officers who picked up an intoxicated man at night on a road and gave him a ride to a convenience store, leaving him there, were not liable for his subsequent death by being struck by a vehicle as he lay in the middle of the road. Officers did not create the danger posed by him walking in an intoxicated condition, nor did they put him in a more dangerous position than he was before they picked him up. Cartwright v. City of Marine City, No. 02-1728, 336 F.3d 487 (6th Cir. 2003). [2003 LR Nov]
Sheriff's department was 55% at fault in case where a pedestrian was hit by a drunk driver while helping to direct traffic around an accident scene. The injured pedestrian sued both the drunk driver and the sheriff, claiming sheriff's deputies negligently failed to stop at the first accident scene. Award against sheriff was limited to proceeds of $1 million insurance policy, from which attorneys' fees for defense were deductible, but the cost of an appellate bond was not. Edwards v. Daugherty, No. 02-354, 848 So. 2d 787 (La. App. 3d Cir. 2003). [N/R]
Deputies and sheriff were not liable for injuries suffered by a pedestrian on the side of the road when he was struck by a drunken driver while being detained by the deputies, who were searching for an escaped jail prisoner. The deputies activated their overhead lights and flashing headlights, and also pulled their vehicle as close as possible to the suspects they detained. The fault for the injuries rested with the drunk driver, who admitted that he "blanked out" or fell asleep after seeing the lights, and not with the deputies or the sheriff. Freeman v. Tate, 847 So. 2d 800 (La. App. 2003). [N/R]
Police officers' failure to arrest minor intoxicated motorist results in $1.14 million award against officers and municipality for the subsequent death of his passenger in a vehicle accident. Intermediate Illinois appeals court rules that officers, once they had grounds to believe minor was violating state "zero tolerance" law, had no discretion but to enforce the law, preventing him from driving after having consumed alcohol. Their "willful and wanton" failure to do so placed the case outside of the immunity normally granted from liability for failure to make an arrest. Ozik v. Gramins, #01-00-3280, ___ N.E.2d __, 2003 Ill. App. Lexis 846. [2003 LR Aug]
Jurors could reasonably find that actions by state police in failing to send assistance to truck driver in backing an 18-wheeler truck loaded with overhanging poles out onto the highway did not render them liable for the deaths of two occupants of a car which collided with the truck as it backed out after sunset without a police escort. Officers believed that driver would not make such an attempt after sunset, when the driver indicated that he knew it would be illegal for him to be on the road at that time. Trial judge properly found sheriffs' office, however, 20% at fault for failing to respond to request for assistance. General damages of $400,000 to each of ten adult children of two parents killed ordered, increasing prior award of $200,000 each, based on children's close relationship with parents, and fact that the parents were killed on Mother's Day, after celebrating that day with their children. Davis v. Witt, #01-894, 831 So. 2d 1075 (La. App. 2002). [N/R]
Even if city had an intentional policy of not enforcing its speeding laws, that would be insufficient to impose liability on municipality for the death of two children killed by an allegedly speeding motorist as they attempted to cross the street. Childrens' parents also failed to establish liability based on purported inadequate investigation. White v. City of Toledo, 217 F. Supp. 2d 838 (N.D. Ohio 2002). [2003 LR Jan]
County sheriff was not liable for injury to driver and passengers of motor vehicle injured when they hit rock on the highway that the sheriff observed and failed to remove. Idaho law would not impose on the sheriff a common law duty to remove rocks on the highway or warn motorists of them, and any statutory duty to remove obstructions from the highway were on the state, not the county. Udy v. Custer County, Nos. 26345, 26346, 34 P.3d 1069 (Idaho 2001). [N/R]
City and sheriff had no duty, under Louisiana law, to control traffic for the protection of pedestrians, and therefore were not liable for injury to visitor to Halloween haunted house suffered when he was struck by a car on an adjacent street. Arthur v. City of DeRidder, No. 01-0305, 799 So. 2d 589 (La. App. 3d Cir. 2001). [2002 LR Mar]
City was not liable for injuries to passengers in vehicle struck by intoxicated driver who had been released on his own recognizance and been driven to city impound lot by police officer. Boutin v. Perrin, No. 00-862, 796 So. 2d 691 (La. App. 2001). [N/R]
Officer was not liable for failure to extract trapped motorist from burning vehicle after accident. Officer did what he could to attempt rescue and did nothing to place motorist in added danger. Opoku v. City of Philadelphia, 152 F. Supp. 2d 809 (E.D. Pa. 2001). [2002 LR Jan]
347:173 Motorist who fled into the desert following his involvement in a two car collision and subsequently died had no due process right to a thorough search by officers, but his estate could pursue an equal protection claim and inadequate training claim based on alleged policy of not searching for him because of mistaken belief that he was a Native American fleeing to a nearby reservation. Amos, Estate of, v. City of Page, Arizona, No. 99-16214, 257 F.3d 1086 (9th Cir. 2001).
345:142 State troopers were not liable for death of motorist struck by out of control vehicle as she took field sobriety test at the side of the highway. George, Estate of, Ex Rel. George v. Michigan, 136 F. Supp. 2d 695 (E.D. Mich. 2001).
346:155 Tennessee Supreme Court rules that state statute authorizing claims against state for negligent care of personal property does not allow claims for personal injuries caused by such negligence, but merely claims for loss or damage to the property; state was not liable for injuries to county deputy hit by a motorist while assisting passenger with nonoperating car at scene of state trooper's arrest of speeding motorist. Stewart v. State of Tennessee, 33 S.W.2d 785 (Tenn. 2000).
327:44 UPDATE: $3.9 million jury award against State of Alaska to family of couple and their 2-year-old grandson who died of hypothermia reduced to $1.48 million; lawsuit asserted state troopers knew of stalled motorists' plight but took no action for over two days. Kiokum v. State of Alaska, 4BC-97-00274CI (Alaska Super. Ct., Bethel, Alaska), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A13 (Feb. 7, 2000).
329:75 California highway patrol officer owed a duty of reasonable care to occupants of a motor vehicle that he ordered to pull over to highway's center median rather than right shoulder; appeals court reinstates personal injury lawsuit by vehicle occupants injured when an oncoming truck struck their vehicle from behind. Lugtu v. California Highway Patrol, #D032518, 2000 Cal. App. LEXIS 216, 94 Cal. Rptr. 2d 113.
329:76 Arizona city owed a duty to a motorist injured on a state roadway by a piece of metal lying there despite a state statute giving the state the exclusive obligation to maintain the roadway; city's officers routinely patrolled the roadway and allegedly routinely removed such dangers or reported them to state authorities and therefore might be liable for failure to do so in this instance. McDonald v. City of Prescott, #1 CA-CV 99-0128, 5 P.3d 900 (Ariz. App. 2000).
325:13 State of Alaska found liable for $3.9 million to family of couple and their 2-year-old grandson who died of hypothermia while walking eight miles to town from disabled vehicle; state troopers were allegedly informed of abandoned vehicle and a "help" message carved in the snow, but took no action for over two days. Kiokum v. State of Alaska, 4BC-97-00274CI (Alaska Super. Ct., Bethel, Alaska), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A15 (November 15, 1999).
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