Updated: May 3, 2022
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently denied writs (review) of a lower court's finding that a police officer was liable for injuries arising from a car crash that occurred when the officer was responding "Code 3" to a call for service. The officer received a dispatch regarding a road rage incident that was occurring outside of his jurisdiction, but the complainant wished to meet an officer at the police station. Two officers were within 1/4 mile of the station when they were notified by dispatch and the complainant was up to four miles away. The officers activated their lights and sirens and began responding "Code 3". Facing a red light at a busy intersection, the first officer cautiously proceeded without incident and arrived at the station moments later. The second officer, however, was struck broadside mid-intersection by a motorist who was traveling through a green light at 45 miles per hour. Neither the officer nor the other driver observed the opposing vehicle before impact due to line-of-sight obstructions.
Suit was filed for the serious personal injuries sustained by the motorist that struck the second officer's vehicle. The officer asserted the Emergency Vehicle Immunity as a defense. Louisiana law, like most states, affords protection from liability to first responders who are responding to an emergency call, but only under limited circumstances. Specifically, a first responder who is utilizing the vehicle's lights or sirens may proceed past a red light or stop sign after slowing or stopping as necessary for safe operation. The first responder must use due regard for the safety of others and is not protected from actions that amount to the reckless disregard of safety.
After hearing the evidence, the trial court found that the officer was not protected by the Emergency Vehicle Immunity because (1) the emergency, if one ever existed, had ceased at the time of the crash, and (2) the officer did not slow or stop as necessary for safe operation under the particular facts of this case. The trial court relied on many factors in reaching this decision, including the surrounding traffic and vehicle positions within and around the intersection, obstructions of view of both drivers, the speed limit, the speed of the vehicles involved in the crash, the timing of the first unit and the second unit going through the intersection, and the officer's training that dictated the proper methods of "clearing" an intersection. Defendants appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal and, after review, the trial court's decision was affirmed. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently denied review.
Courrege Consulting Group's founder, Scott Courrege, was the lead attorney representing the injured driver on behalf of Due' Guidry Piedrahita Andrews, LC both in trial and on appeal. The decision to proceed against a law enforcement officer seemingly goes against Scott's principles; however, in this case there was clear evidence that the officer did not follow his training and well-known police practices on safely clearing intersections. That poor decision was the cause of this crash and the injuries sustained by the other driver.
CCG provides expert consulting services for civil suits arising from police pursuits and emergency vehicle operations. Few other experts or consultants bring the practical experience of having regularly performed these high-risk maneuvers coupled with an intricate understanding of Emergency Vehicle Immunity and the legal standards that apply to each particular situation that is offered by CCG. Contact us today for a free consultation.