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Immunity Protects Officer in Call to Duty Motor -Vehicle Collision

In the case of Hale v. Toth, 2023-Ohio-2954, an appellate court affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of a city and its police officers under R.C. 2744.02(B)(1)(a), finding that the city, officer, and sergeant were immune from civil liability when the officer, in response to an on-duty, emergency call, drove through an intersection and collided with the appellee driver.

In this case, the appellee-driver argued that the officer’s actions did not fall within the exception under R.C. 2744(B)(1)(a), which provides a full defense to a pollical subdivision for motor-vehicle liability when (1) the operator of the motor vehicle was a member of the municipal corporation’s police department, (2) the officer was responding an emergency call, and (3) the operation of the vehicle did not constitute willful or wanton misconduct.  The driver argued that the exception did not apply because the officer had been dispatched to a potential assault, which was not an “emergency call” because there was no on-going assault.  The Court rejected this argument, noting that the statute defines “emergency call” as one involving a call to duty “to which a response by a peace officer is required by the officer’s professional obligation” and was not limited to “inherently dangerous situations.” Id. at ¶ 27.

The Court likewise rejected the arguments that officer’s actions were wanton and/or willful misconduct based upon the allegation that the officer rapidly accelerated through the red light at a busy intersection and only “chirped” his siren under conditions where the siren could not be heard.  The Court reasoned that the officer activated his emergency lights and siren while stopped at the red light, and only proceeded after he visually cleared the intersection, reaching a maximum speed of 30 m.p.h in a 35 m.p.h. zone, none of which could meet the high standard of wanton or willful misconduct.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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