|September 16, 2013|
Previously published on September 11, 2013
In Torrie v. Weber County, 2013 UT 48 (Aug. 6, 2013), the Utah Supreme Court held that law enforcement officers engaged in pursuit owe a duty to all persons, including fleeing suspects. The case involved the death of a 16-year-old boy, who crashed his automobile while being pursued by a Weber County deputy. In the case, the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, ruling that the defendants, a Weber County deputy and Weber County, owed no duty to the boy. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, holding that the deputy did owe a duty of care.
In finding that the deputy owed a duty to the fleeing boy, the Court first held that a “special relationship” existed between the deputy and the boy because one of the four circumstances that may create a special relationship was present. The special relationship circumstance that existed was that there was a statute intended to protect a specific class of persons, of which the plaintiff was a member, from a particular type of harm. The statute, Utah Code section 41-6a-212, states that “[t]he privileges granted under this section do not relieve the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle of the duty to act as a reasonably prudent emergency vehicle operator in like circumstances.” The Court held that under the plain language of the statute, a statutory duty exists, not only to innocent bystanders, but also to fleeing suspects.
In reaching the conclusion that law enforcement officers owe a legal duty to fleeing suspects, the Court reiterated that the imposition of a duty is a separate and distinct analysis from breach and proximate cause. However, the Court overturned the summary judgment against the deputy because it ruled that the deputy did owe a duty to the fleeing boy under Section 41-6a-212 of the Utah Code.