Georgia Court Discusses Government Immunity in Recent Car Accident Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case involving an accident that occurred when a suspect fleeing police struck the plaintiffs’ vehicle. The court was tasked with determining whether either of the sheriff departments that were involved in the chase could be potentially liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries based on a waiver of sovereign immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that one of the sheriffs involved in the chase may have acted with “reckless disregard for law enforcement procedures.” Thus, the department employing that sheriff was not entitled to summary judgment based on the department’s asserted immunity.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were seriously injured in a car accident when their vehicle was struck by a motorist who had led police on a high-speed chase culminating in the suspect’s vehicle colliding with the plaintiffs’ as the two vehicles entered an intersection. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against two sheriff departments that were involved in the pursuit, claiming that the sheriffs involved in the chase acted recklessly in pursing the vehicle after it failed to stop.

The Chase

A Lamar County sheriff’s deputy attempted to pull over a motorist for a minor traffic infraction. The driver, however, failed to stop and took the Lamar sheriff’s deputy on a high-speed chase of up to 125 miles per hour. Throughout the chase, the suspect was driving very aggressively.

At some point, Monroe sheriff’s department deputies arrived to assist in the pursuit. The suspect continued to drive erratically, even as traffic on the road increased. Eventually, the Lamar deputy’s tire blew out, and the Monroe deputies took over the chase. The chase continued, and a Monroe deputy recalled seeing the suspect toss a bag of white powder out of the window, which landed on the deputy’s windshield. However, the deputy’s dash-cam did not document this and the fact was not otherwise corroborated.

At trial, both departments claimed that they were entitled to government immunity. The trial court granted both departments’ motions for summary judgment finding that they were both entitled to immunity. The plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the immunity for the Lamar department, but held that the lower court erred in finding the Monroe department was entitled to immunity. The court explained that, as a general rule, government officials are entitled to immunity when carrying out their duties. However, if the sheriff’s deputy was acting with reckless regard for department policies, then immunity would not attach.

After considering the evidence, the court determined that a jury may very well find that the Monroe deputies acted with reckless disregard. The court noted that there was heavy traffic at the time of the chase, and that the motorist had only committed a minor traffic infraction. Additionally, the court was bothered by the fact that the deputy’s account of the suspect tossing a white bag out his window was never corroborated. Thus, the plaintiffs’ case against the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department will proceed towards trial or settlement negotiations.

Have You Been Injured Due to the Negligence of a Government Official?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia car accident involving a government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, it is important that you meet with an experienced Georgia personal injury attorney to discuss your case because there will likely be issues of government immunity. The dedicated Georgia personal injury attorneys at McAleer Law have extensive experience handling Georgia personal injury cases, including car accidents and other cases involving government defendants. Call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney at McAleer Law today.

See More Posts:

Georgia Court Permits Plaintiffs to Add Defendant and Amend Expert Affidavit Beyond Statute of Limitations, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, September 25, 2017.

Georgia Court of Appeals Discusses Venue Selection in Hit-and-Run Car Accident Case, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, September 14, 2017.