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Discretionary Immunity and Remedies for the Motorist Injured in a Car Accident with a Police Officer

What happens when a personal injury plaintiff wants to file a claim for injurious acts committed by an on-duty police officer? Finding a remedy in such a situation has the potential to be an extremely difficult, albeit not impossible, road to traverse. Few people are aware that government officials, including police officers, enjoy a degree of official/discretionary immunity, which fortifies them against potential liability in many circumstances.

According to Georgia’s doctrine of official immunity, “police officer who exercises discretion within the scope of the officer’s authority and does not act maliciously or with intent to injure when investigating a complaint and arresting an individual is immune from liability for those activities under the doctrine of official immunity in an action for malicious prosecution…Even if the decisions by the officers are flawed, absent evidence of willfulness, malice, or corruption, such officers are entitled to discretionary immunity.” 14 Ga. Jur. Personal Injury and Torts ยง 20:21.

Personal injury actions tend to be more successful where an officer’s actions occur outside the scope of his employ or if and when the police department waives sovereign immunity. Waiver itself can be a tricky subject, often depending upon actions taken by the officer at the scene of the accident. While reluctant to overlook an on-duty police official’s sovereign status, courts will often look at things like whether the officer’s emergency lights were on and/or whether they were responding to an emergency call. Being aware that this “loophole” exists is one of the first steps towards a successful personal injury action, but Georgia car accident attorneys are best equipped to help injured plaintiffs navigate the murky waters of the doctrine.

Of course, we most commonly see the doctrine in action where claimants feel they were mistreated during the arrest and/or booking process. However, official immunity also crops up after high-speed chases that culminate in car accidents between fleeing suspects and innocent third parties. Because the suspect rarely has assets that would make pursuit of a claim worthwhile, the injured party often wants to know whether they could sue the police officer and/or the police department for their part played in the chain of events leading to the crash.

When it comes to high speed chases, police officers have been trained to carefully consider the public’s safety concerns. They are trained to recognize when their adrenaline may be pushing them to make decisions that they normally would not do but after an increasing number of fatal pursuit accidents in recent years (including the death of an Atlanta Braves trainer’s wife in 2012), many Georgians are pushing for advanced training requirements.

Injuries also result, however, when high speed chases are not involved and, although the media reports on these accidents less often, they most certainly occur. Just this past week, for example, an on-duty officer in Barnesville, Georgia, accidentally struck and killed two men crossing a highway in Lamar County at around 1 a.m. Another officer made the local news when he struck a female student who was crossing the road adjacent to her high school. Luckily, however, the injuries in that instance were minor.

Still, crashes like the aforementioned are not anomalies. Hundreds of people, both motorists and pedestrians, are injured in car crashes with Georgia police officers every year. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in an accident involving a police officer, we can help you find an attorney suited to your needs. Click here to learn more.