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Utah Code Imposes Upon Law Enforcement Officers in Pursuit of a Fleeing Suspect a Duty to the Fleeing Suspect to Act as a Reasonably Prudent Emergency Vehicle Operates in Like Circumstances.




by:
Parsons Behle Latimer A Professional Corporation - Salt Lake City Office

 
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.



 

The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.
 

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