Appellate Court Affirms Police Officers’ Immunity in High-Speed Chase Accident

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman who was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by the subject of a high-speed chase initiated by police. In the case, Agrabrite v. Neer, the court concluded that since the police officers’ actions were not “wanton or reckless conduct,” the officers were entitled to government immunity.

The Facts of the Case

Agrabrite was seriously injured when her car was struck head-on by another motorist’s vehicle. At the time of the collision, the other motorist was being chased by police on suspicion of having committed a burglary. The fleeing suspect died in the car accident. Agrabrite filed a personal injury lawsuit against the police department.

Agrabrite knew that she would have to overcome the presumptive immunity that exists to protect government officials, so in her complaint, she alleged that the police officers’ actions were “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious.” Under the applicable state law, if the court determined that the officers’ conduct was “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious,” government immunity would not apply to the officers, and the case could proceed to a trial at which a jury may find the officers liable for Agrabrite’s injuries.

Before trial began, the police officers filed a motion for summary judgment, making two arguments in favor of dismissal. First, they argued that they were entitled to immunity because they did not act with “malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton and reckless manner.” Second, the officers argued that, even if immunity did not apply, their actions were not the proximate cause of Agrabrite’s injuries because their conduct was not extreme or outrageous.

The Courts’ Decisions

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that the officers’ conduct was not “reckless or extreme” and therefore was not the proximate cause of Agrabrite’s injuries. Agrabrite appealed.

On appeal, the state’s highest court affirmed the result but clarified the reasoning behind the decision. The court explained that, as a threshold issue, it must be determined if the officers were entitled to immunity. In the jurisdiction where the case was heard, officers are entitled if their conduct is not “reckless or wanton.”

If it is determined that the officers’ conduct was not entitled to immunity, it must be determined if the officers’ conduct was the proximate cause of the injuries. Specifically, an officer’s conduct is not considered to be the proximate cause of an injury unless the officer’s conduct is extreme or outrageous. The court detailed the involvement of all of the officers involved, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to show that the officers’ actions were “reckless or wanton,” and therefore they were entitled to immunity.

Have You Been Injured by a Police Officer or Other Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an accident involving a police officer or other government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as the case discussed above illustrates, establishing a government actor’s liability can be difficult. The skilled injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience holding government entities and employees responsible for the injuries they have caused. Lebowitz & Mzhen attorneys understand the nuances of immunity law, and we approach each case with a careful attention to detail. We handle all personal injury cases, including auto accidents and slip-and-fall cases. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Pre-Trial Destruction of Evidence in Product Liability Case Does Not Result in Sanctions, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published January 3, 2017.

An Attorney’s Role in Ensuring a Personal Injury Verdict Is Not Unfairly Reduced, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published January 17, 2017.

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