Wrongful Death Claim Against California Police Department Dismissed on Immunity Grounds

When a Southern California car accident case is filed against a government entity based on the alleged negligent conduct of a government employee, issues of sovereign immunity will often arise. Sovereign immunity is a concept that was built into the Constitution during the formation of the country, and it essentially stands for the proposition that a government entity cannot be sued without its consent.

In California, the state legislature has passed a series of bills that waive sovereign immunity under some circumstances. For example, the California Tort Claims Act contains a broad waiver of immunity and permits lawsuits against government entities in situations in which the negligent act of an employee results in injuries, as long as the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident.

While the California Tort Claims Act grants broad immunity, other statutes limit that immunity. For example, California Vehicle Code 17004.7 grants immunity to law enforcement agencies for injuries or deaths that occur while an officer is in pursuit of a driver whom the officer suspects has violated the law. A recent case discusses section 17004.7 as it pertains to a city’s policy to handle fleeing motorists.

The Facts

The plaintiffs’ family member was killed in a car accident that was caused by a police officer who intentionally struck the rear bumper of the vehicle in which the plaintiffs’ family member was a passenger. Once the officer made contact with the bumper, the driver of the vehicle lost control and collided with a light post. The driver survived and was arrested; however, the passenger died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

The officer conducted the maneuver because he believed that the vehicle may have been involved in a recent robbery, and when the officer attempted to pull the vehicle over, the driver disregarded the officer’s signal to pull over.

The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police department, claiming that the officer’s negligence in performing the controlled collision resulted in their loved one’s death. In response, the police department claimed that it was entitled to immunity under section 17004.7, which provides immunity to law enforcement officers and agencies for injuries caused as a result of a controlled traffic maneuver. Specifically, the police department pointed to its written policy regarding the use of traffic techniques to stop fleeing drivers.

Under section 17004.7, in order for immunity to attach, the law enforcement agency must show that the officer was following a written policy that had been “adopted and promulgated” by the agency. In addition, the agency must show that officers have been sufficiently trained on how to implement the policy.

The Court’s Decision

The court determined that the police department was entitled to immunity because it had “adopted and promulgated” the policy and provided sufficient training to officers regarding the policy’s implementation. The court noted that the department provided signed certifications from 61 of the 92 officers in the department that they had been trained on the policy. Similarly, the department provided training logs indicating that 80 of the officers had attended the yearly training on the policy. This, the court held, was sufficient to establish that the officer was relying on an “adopted and promulgated” policy when he engaged in the controlled collision. Thus, the police department was entitled to immunity.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident with a Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a Southern California car accident with a police car, fire truck, or other city-owned vehicle, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While issues of immunity will apply in some situations, immunity will not attach in many cases. To learn more about government immunity in Southern California personal injury cases, contact Sharifi Firm. At Sharifi Firm, we have extensive experience bringing cases against private citizens, businesses, and government agencies, and we know what it takes to be successful on our clients’ behalf. Call 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Off-Duty Los Angeles Police Officer Arrested after Fatal DUI Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 5, 2017

California Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Employer When Inference Could be Drawn that Employee Was Within Scope of Employment at Time Plaintiff was Injured, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 28, 2017

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