Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Injured Person in Crash with a Police Car

Is a police officer immune from liability when he runs a red light and hits someone driving through an intersection? Read Attorney Dixon Gahnz' blog about a recent Supreme Court decision that affects the impact of jury decisions in our civil jury system.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a police officer was not immune from liability when he ran a red light and struck a car in the intersection.  The case of Legue v. City of Racine involved a police car that was traveling with its lights and siren on.  It ran a red light and collided with another car that did not see or hear it.  The jury concluded that the police officer and the driver were each 50% at fault.

The City of Racine appealed the decision claiming that the police officer was immune from liability because he made a discretionary decision to enter the intersection.  The law is generally that a government official, including police officers, cannot be sued for the discretionary decisions they make.  They can be sued for ministerial decisions.  For instance, the decision to put a stop sign up at a particular intersection is discretionary.  However, once the decision to place the stop sign is made, and the work order goes out, the government official has a ministerial duty to put the stop sign in the appropriate place.

The supreme court was faced with two statutes that seemed to conflict.  The first statute granted immunity for discretionary acts.  The second statute required police officers to use due care when entering an intersection in disregard of the traffic lights.  The court concluded that a police officer may be found liable when she enters an intersection against the light  even if she has her lights and siren activated.

The importance of this holding is that it lets the jury decide who was at fault which is the essence of our civil jury system.