Woman injured in police chase can sue Sheriff's Department but not Deputy
Bobbie Hardy was T-boned in an intersection by a Deputy Sheriff, Dawn Nye, who failed to yield the right of way at a stop sign. Nye was chasing another vehicle that had run the stop sign. Although Nye described her actions in a self-servingly reasonable manner, she clearly did not see or yield to Hardy in the intersection and was the cause of the collision. To be responsible for the injuries she caused, however, Nye, as a government employee, must be guilty of gross negligence. The Court of Appeals analyzed the facts and 2 of the 3 judges concluded that no matter how her conduct was analyzed, Nye did not operate her vehicle in a manner "so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results."Incredibly, in order to arrive at this conclusion, the majority in the Court of Appeals refused to consider the testimony of the injured woman's accident reconstruction expert, who offered the opinion that Nye was traveling 26 miles per hour at impact and therefore COULD NOT have slowed to 1-2 miles per hour at the stop sign before entering the intersection (as she testified). The majority also refused to consider whether the force of impact--which flipped plaintiff's van and drove it to the opposite side of the road and over the curb--refuted Nye's claim of a near-stop at the intersection.
The court majority also suggested that there was no dispute over whether Nye checked twice for oncoming traffic, as she claimed, even though plaintiff's van was undeniably yards from entering the intersection at the time--with no vision obstructions. Lastly, the court refused to consider the victim's statement to police in the Emergency Room that she saw the police cruiser but did not see operating emergency lights; as a result it concluded that Nye's claim that the lights were on was also undisputed. On the basis of these various evidentiary rulings, the two judges deemed it proper to dismiss the "gross negligence" claim against the Deputy.
The entire court voted to overturn the dismissal of the plain negligence claim against the Ingham County Sheriff's Department, however, and reinstated that claim. Governmental entities remain responsible for the negligent operation of vehicles they own, even if the driver is immune from liability. All three judges considered it a question of fact for the jury to decide which driver negligently caused Hardy's injuries. We hope that it was this residual liability that persuaded the two judges to decide factual issues and dismiss the Deputy, in contravention of the normal rules of summary disposition. Judge Cynthia Stephens wrote separately, taking exception to the majority's holding regarding the Deputy.