Three year SOL applies to claims against officers of the City.

Three year SOL applies to claims against officers of the City. 

Officer Valentine (Officer) a police officer with the city of Independence (City) was in a marked police patrol car watching for illegal drug activity in an area of Independence known for such activity.  The Officer observed several traffic violations by a red Oldsmobile.  After observing the violations, the Officer initiated the overhead emergency lights on his patrol car in an attempt to execute a traffic stop.  Both the Officer and the red Oldsmobile were in the city limits.  When the Officer activated his emergency lights, the Oldsmobile did not yield but accelerated and fled from the area.  The Officer then activated the siren on his patrol car and pursued the Oldsmobile.  His emergency lights and siren remained on for the duration of the pursuit.  The pursuit continued into the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri.  As the fleeing vehicle approached the intersection of 40 Highway and Van Brunt, it was traveling at approximately 50-55 miles per hour.  At the intersection, the fleeing vehicle collided with a minivan driven by the plaintiff, Stephanie Dilley, who was injured.  At the time of the impact, the Officer’s car was approximately 30-40 yards behind the fleeing vehicle.  The entire pursuit lasted less than two minutes at night on wet roads.  Officer Valentine was informed by dispatch that no warrants were associated with the license plate on the suspect’s vehicle.  Once the chase moved into Kansas City, the Officer and the suspect were traveling at speeds in excess of 65 miles per hour.  The officer conceded that he was unfamiliar with the area once the pursuit moved into Kansas City, but that he was aware that several roads converged creating a large and confusing intersection. He also conceded that he had been involved in one other chase where the suspect had been involved in a collision.  As a result of the collision, the fleeing suspect was rendered unconscious and later died in a local hospital.  At no time during the pursuit did Officer Valentine know the identity of the driver of the fleeing vehicle. There was no physical contact between the patrol car and the Oldsmobile at any time during the pursuit.  The Officer was in contact with the Independence police dispatcher during the pursuit, and at no time was he told to terminate or discontinue the pursuit.  Ms. Dilley filed a three-count petition for damages against Officer Valentine and the City.  Her theories of recovery were that Officer Valentine was negligent (Count I) and reckless (Count II) in initiating the pursuit and continuing to pursue the fleeing suspect, and that the City was vicariously liable for the Officer’s actions (Count III).  Ms. Dilley further alleged that the City was negligent in failing to properly train and supervise Officer Valentine, and failed to implement appropriate policies and procedures (Count III).  The Officer and the City filed their motion for summary judgment, arguing that the pursuing officer was not the proximate cause of a collision between a fleeing suspect and an innocent third-party.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all counts finding that Ms. Dilley failed to present a factual basis to support a finding of proximate cause based on current case law.  Ms. Dilley appealed to the Western District, which held that under current case law that the Officer was not the proximate cause, and sustained the ruling on Count I (the negligence Count).  With respect to Count II (the recklessness count), the court concluded that the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment because Missouri recognizes a cause of action for recklessness based on knowing or having reason to know of facts that would lead a reasonable person to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to the other but also involved a high degree of probability that substantial harm would result.  The court also considered on its own, the issue of whether or not the statute of limitations limited the right to bring this cause based on the trial court denying the Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that a court will sustain a trial courts verdict if there is any legal basis to sustain the decision.  In a case of first impression, the court held that the three-year statute of limitations in 516.130.1 applies and limits actions against a police officer incurred in his or her duties based upon cases holding that other local officials have been held to be included with the term other officers.  Since the record showed that the lawsuit was filed after the three-year statute of limitations it was dismissed.  Dilley v. Valentine, 2013 WL 2990659(Mo. App. W.D. 2013).(WD74790(6/18/2013)

 

Comment Howard: There is no mention in this case about whether or not the City had a policy with respect to high-speed chases, which seems strange. If your police department does not have a policy with respect to high-speed chases, you may want to consider adopting one based on policies developed by other communities and tailoring it for your community. 

 

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