California High Court Sides With Police in Fight Over Chases

By SUDHIN THANAWALA | August 17, 2018

The California Supreme Court on Monday rejected a lawsuit that could have made it easier to hold police in the state liable for crashes during pursuits.

A state law that gives law enforcement agencies broad protection from lawsuits arising from such collisions does not require that every officer attest to having read the agency’s pursuit policy, the court ruled unanimously.

The ruling came in a lawsuit against the Southern California city of Gardena by Irma Ramirez, whose son was killed in 2015 after an officer bumped his pickup truck during a chase.

Under the state law, law enforcement agencies are immune from liability if they have a written pursuit policy, provide annual training about chases and require that all officers certify in writing that they have read and understood the policy.

The court said Monday the law does not require an agency to show that every officer has met the certification provision.

“A requirement may exist even if not every peace officer complies with it,” Associate Justice Ming Chin wrote.

Ramirez’s attorney, Abdalla Innabi, said the decision makes people less safe by protecting departments no matter “how negligent, how egregious, how reckless” the pursuit.

“The standard is now so low that any department will be immune,” he said. “All they have to say is, `We have a requirement,’ and that’s good enough.”

Chin said it would be “almost impossible” for large law enforcement agencies with thousands of officers to ensure 100 percent compliance with the certification requirement. Opening them up to liability for a single officer’s failure to complete the written certification would reduce their incentive to craft a pursuit policy and provide training, he said.

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