If you are severely injured in an accident where the other driver clearly ran a red light while speeding, it would seem clear the speeding party should be liable for your injuries. However, what if the speeding car is a police officer en route to an emergency call?
Generally, the doctrine of “official immunity” may apply-a legal principle that excludes a pubic official from liability for injuries caused while performing official duties-but that principle is not absolute. An officer might still be liable for the injuries, as demonstrated by a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals case, Vassallo v. Majeski.
An intersection collision
After receiving a dispatch call in response to a home-security alarm, a deputy activated his emergency lights and siren and headed toward the address of the alarm. Weather conditions were poor, and roadways were somewhat slippery due to snowfall.
Approximately 10 minutes later, as the deputy approached an intersection, he observed several cars pulled over, and believing the intersection was clear of traffic, he turned off his siren. The traffic light was red, and he was allegedly traveling over the 50 mile-per-hour speed limit as he entered the intersection.
The victim’s vehicle entered the intersection at that moment, and the deputy collided with her. The victim sustained extensive injuries and later had no memory of the collision.
The deputy’s defense was based on official immunity. However, the victim contended that the deputy’s actions negated any potential official immunity.
The district court determined that official immunity did apply and the deputy could not be held liable for the injuries to the victim. The case was dismissed without a trial. The victim appealed, seeking her day in court.
Did the deputy drive without due regard for safety?
The Court of Appeals agreed that official immunity acts as a liability shield protecting government officials engaged in discretionary official duties. However, that protection does not apply for “ministerial” duties-that is, duties where there is a policy that sets a narrow standard of conduct, and the official is bound to follow the policy.
The key conduct here was that of the deputy as he entered the intersection. The county sheriff’s office had an official policy in place which stated that: “The use of both red lights and siren is required when responding to an emergency. Deputies are required to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons.”
Considering that language, the appellate court noted that the record contained evidence that contradicted the idea that the deputy proceeded cautiously. An accident reconstruction expert stated that if the deputy were traveling through the intersection on a red light, his speed would be considered too fast for the conditions. In addition, two separate witnesses stated that the deputy’s speed appeared excessive for the conditions. Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s initial decision, and the victim would be allowed her day in court.
Understanding the law and its implications
A motor vehicle accident is, by definition, always unexpected. In an instant, your life can be changed by a collision and the injuries that result. In certain circumstances, such as a collision with a police car, it may seem that receiving damages will be a difficult proposition.
However, as this case demonstrates, it is important to fully understand the law and all its implications in any situation. If you are injured, seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help you to pursue the rightful compensation you deserve for your injuries.