Articles Posted in Government Liability

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All drivers have a duty to operate their motor vehicles in Florida in a careful and prudent manner under the circumstances. This duty extends to everyone, including to police officers driving police cars, whether or not they are responding to an emergency and whether or not the emergency lights are activated. A police officer’s failure to take the necessary precautions when operating a patrol car may result in the officer, the department, or the city being liable for a victim’s injuries through a South Florida personal injury lawsuit.

Police SirensDuty of Reasonable Care

To establish a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the breach of that duty caused the plaintiff’s damages, and that the plaintiff has quantifiable damages. A defendant’s “duty of care” in favor of a plaintiff can arise from four sources:  state laws and regulations, judicial interpretations of laws or regulations, other judicial decisions, or a duty arising out of the specific facts of the case.

Police officers must drive carefully and prudently while operating police vehicles, even when responding to emergencies. In fact, if a police officer is driving in a more dangerous situation, like driving through red lights, the officer may have a heightened duty because, as the risk of harm grows to others, a driver’s duty of care is heightened. Police officers owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in carrying out their duties, including a duty to protect innocent bystanders if their police duties create a foreseeable zone of risk. For example, police officers in Florida have been found to have a duty when police were engaged in a high-speed chase and killed innocent motorists, as well as when police were chasing someone on foot and injured a pedestrian. Florida courts have also determined that police do not have to have a person “in custody” to owe the person a duty of care.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a decision in a tragic case stemming from the death of a seventh-grade student that occurred at school while his teacher was out of the room. In the case, the court had the opportunity to discuss when government immunity is appropriate in situations in which a government employee’s negligence is alleged. In this case, unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the court determined that the allegedly negligent teacher was entitled to immunity.

After SchoolThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a seventh-grade student in the defendant’s American Literature class. One day, the teacher stepped out of the room and asked another teacher to listen in on the class while she was gone. However, while the student’s teacher was absent, he and another boy were horse playing when he fell to the ground, fracturing his collarbone. The fracture caused serious blood loss. By the time the teacher returned and called 911, it was too late. The student died later that day in the hospital.

The principal called the teacher to his office to discuss the student’s death. The teacher initially lied to the principal, telling him that she was present when the student fell. It was only later that the principal determined this was not the case. The teacher continued to offer several other versions of what happened, eventually testifying that she was using the restroom at the time of the accident.

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