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Police Car Accidents

Police Car Accidents

Brien Roche

Police car accidents should be no different than any other car accident case.  However they are.  Police in Virginia may have immunity.  That immunity depends on what they were doing at the time of the crash.  

The central issue is whether or not the officer was involved in an emergency. 

Police Car Accidents-Emergency

They may rely on Messina V. Burden, 288 Va. 301, 321 S.E.2d 657 (1984) to assert the officer has discretion to determine whether there is an emergency.  This in essence would give the office and/or his attorney carte blanche to determine that he was driving in response to an emergency.  However there is no such holding in Messina.  Further that position is unsupported by other case law.

In the case of Heider v. Clemons, 241 Va. 143, 400 S.E.2d 190 (1991), Heider was a deputy sheriff who had just served process at a residence.  Heider then pulled his vehicle from the curb at the residence.  He caused an accident with a motorcycle. The Supreme Court held that the deputy sheriff was not entitled to sovereign immunity.  Under “… the circumstances of this case, the simple operation of an automobile did not involve special risks arising from the governmental activity, or the exercise of judgment or discretion about the proper means of effectuating the governmental purpose of the driver’s employer.”  Id. at 400 S.E.2d at 191.  Heider was simply driving an automobile that did not involve any special risk.  Id.

Fire Department Vehicle

The case of Friday-Spivey v. Collier, 268 Va. 384, 601 S.E.2d 591 (2004) is a more complicated case.  In that case the defendant, Collier, was a fire technician employed by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.  At the time of the accident he was driving a fire truck and allegedly failed to yield the right of way to Friday-Spivey’s vehicle.  Collier claimed entitlement to sovereign immunity.

During the hearing of his plea in bar, Collier established that at the time of the accident he was heading to a shopping mall in response to a “priority 2” dispatch.  It related to an infant locked in a vehicle at that location.  Collier knew nothing about the infant’s condition at the time.  In responding to the call, Collier acknowledged that he was required to proceed without activating warning devices such as lights or sirens and he was to obey all traffic rules.  Id.

However Collier claimed that he “had to drop everything to proceed to the call”.  At the time of the accident, Collier was driving a pumper truck with a crew of four.  The truck weighs 40,000 lbs.  Collier had received special training in order to drive the truck.  Collier testified that he decided to take the quickest route possible because the infant was locked in the vehicle and he did not know what to expect.  Id.  The Supreme Court denied Collier sovereign immunity and made the following observations:

No Emergency

“Collier essentially argues that he is entitled to sovereign immunity because the inherent difficulty and special skills required in operating a specialized piece of equipment (the pumper truck) means he is not like any other driver in routine traffic.  Under the facts of this case we agree.”  Id at 388, 389

“Despite a natural inclination to classify the report of a child in a locked car as an “emergency”, the facts of this case do not support the conclusion that Collier’s driving involved the exercise of judgment and discretion beyond that required for ordinary driving in routine traffic situations.”  Id at 390

“As established by his own testimony, Collier was driving in a nonemergency manner without lights and sirens, to a “public service call” during which he was required to obey all traffic regulations.  The special skill and training required to operate a fire truck under these circumstances is not the exercise per se of judgment and discretion for purposes of sovereign immunity.”  Id at 390

Police Car Accidents – UM Coverage

In looking at police accident cases, you need to consider whether fighting the immunity battle is worth it.  If the officer is immune then there would be UM coverage.  That may be the easier route to follow.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. Also for more info on police car accidents see the Wikipedia pages. Also see the post on this site dealing with immunity issues.

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Police Car Accidents

Police Car Accidents

Brien Roche

Police car accidents should be no different than any other car accident case.  However they are.  Police in Virginia may have immunity.  That immunity depends on what they were doing at the time of the crash.  

The central issue is whether or not the officer was involved in an emergency. 

Police Car Accidents-Emergency

They may rely on Messina V. Burden, 288 Va. 301, 321 S.E.2d 657 (1984) to assert the officer has discretion to determine whether there is an emergency.  This in essence would give the office and/or his attorney carte blanche to determine that he was driving in response to an emergency.  However there is no such holding in Messina.  Further that position is unsupported by other case law.

In the case of Heider v. Clemons, 241 Va. 143, 400 S.E.2d 190 (1991), Heider was a deputy sheriff who had just served process at a residence.  Heider then pulled his vehicle from the curb at the residence.  He caused an accident with a motorcycle. The Supreme Court held that the deputy sheriff was not entitled to sovereign immunity.  Under “… the circumstances of this case, the simple operation of an automobile did not involve special risks arising from the governmental activity, or the exercise of judgment or discretion about the proper means of effectuating the governmental purpose of the driver’s employer.”  Id. at 400 S.E.2d at 191.  Heider was simply driving an automobile that did not involve any special risk.  Id.

Fire Department Vehicle

The case of Friday-Spivey v. Collier, 268 Va. 384, 601 S.E.2d 591 (2004) is a more complicated case.  In that case the defendant, Collier, was a fire technician employed by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.  At the time of the accident he was driving a fire truck and allegedly failed to yield the right of way to Friday-Spivey’s vehicle.  Collier claimed entitlement to sovereign immunity.

During the hearing of his plea in bar, Collier established that at the time of the accident he was heading to a shopping mall in response to a “priority 2” dispatch.  It related to an infant locked in a vehicle at that location.  Collier knew nothing about the infant’s condition at the time.  In responding to the call, Collier acknowledged that he was required to proceed without activating warning devices such as lights or sirens and he was to obey all traffic rules.  Id.

However Collier claimed that he “had to drop everything to proceed to the call”.  At the time of the accident, Collier was driving a pumper truck with a crew of four.  The truck weighs 40,000 lbs.  Collier had received special training in order to drive the truck.  Collier testified that he decided to take the quickest route possible because the infant was locked in the vehicle and he did not know what to expect.  Id.  The Supreme Court denied Collier sovereign immunity and made the following observations:

No Emergency

“Collier essentially argues that he is entitled to sovereign immunity because the inherent difficulty and special skills required in operating a specialized piece of equipment (the pumper truck) means he is not like any other driver in routine traffic.  Under the facts of this case we agree.”  Id at 388, 389

“Despite a natural inclination to classify the report of a child in a locked car as an “emergency”, the facts of this case do not support the conclusion that Collier’s driving involved the exercise of judgment and discretion beyond that required for ordinary driving in routine traffic situations.”  Id at 390

“As established by his own testimony, Collier was driving in a nonemergency manner without lights and sirens, to a “public service call” during which he was required to obey all traffic regulations.  The special skill and training required to operate a fire truck under these circumstances is not the exercise per se of judgment and discretion for purposes of sovereign immunity.”  Id at 390

Police Car Accidents – UM Coverage

In looking at police accident cases, you need to consider whether fighting the immunity battle is worth it.  If the officer is immune then there would be UM coverage.  That may be the easier route to follow.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. Also for more info on police car accidents see the Wikipedia pages. Also see the post on this site dealing with immunity issues.

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