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Utah Supreme Court Decision Recognizes Duty of Care in Car Chases
On Tuesday, when considering the question of whether the family of a teen who died in a car chase by the police had the right to sue the deputy, the Utah Supreme Court said the deputy could be sued, because there was a duty of care to the subject of a chase. The case was not ruled on merits and now the trial would begin in lower courts.
In the instant case, though there are several inconsistencies where the trial court might find it difficult to apportion liability, one thing stands out – that the deputy who initiated the high-speed car chase may have breached rules for chasing.
Different police departments take into account the duty of care to pursuers, as well as bystanders who might be hurt in a high-speed car chase and have rules to regulate such car chases.
For example, officers in Salt Lake County can start a high-speed pursuit of a car only if the suspect is wanted for a violent felony, like robbery or murder.
On the highways, Utah Highway Patrol troopers may pursue suspects even for minor offenses like speeding.
In many counties, it’s the Sheriff’s Office that decides the rules on initiating pursuits.
In the instant case, one Wayne Torrie, 16, returned home upset, after being bullied and teased at school. He apparently found a lack of sympathy in his home environment, had an altercation with an unsympathetic sibling, and we don’t yet know what his mother told him that he took the family’s Suburban and sped off.
Wayne had no history of crime or any reported incident of having committed any crime.
The seriousness of the altercation that took place at Wayne’s home is unknown, but Wayne’s mother called up the Cache County Sheriff’s Office and asked the police to find Wayne.
When Wayne became aware that the police were looking for him, he reportedly texted his mother that he was afraid of going to jail and was ready to escape or harm himself if he was sought.
Who put it into the kid’s mind that he would be sent to jail?
This was a sixteen-year-old, bullied at school, not finding agreement at home, and difficult to picture as a violent crime-oriented deviant.
However, as according to the text message he sent to his mother, he was convinced someone was going to put him in there – and he told his mother he was going to escape if anyone tried to apprehend him.
When Wayne drove into Weber County, the deputies located him and gave chase. After a short high-speed pursuit, Wayne’s car hit an embankment. He was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car. He died the next day.
Wayne’s parents sued in court, claiming if the police had not chased him, the boy would still have been alive, and that the county police broke the rules of initiating a car chase.
The case was dismissed by the district judge on the grounds that the police did not have a duty to a wrongdoer, but the Utah Supreme Court reinstated the matter on appeal holding the police did have a duty of care towards those pursued in a car chase. The case would now be decided at trial on facts and merits.Utah Supreme Court Decision Recognizes Duty of Care in Car Chases by Scott