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Ohio Supreme Court rules in car crash involving police cruiser

It is not often that the details underlying a car accident in Ohio are evaluated and ruled upon at every level of the state’s court system.

Most car crashes, though, don’t involve issues of a municipality’s sovereign immunity, the distinction between a police officer’s arrest authority versus professional duty to respond to a call for help, or close legal interpretation of state statutory law.

Those factors pushed the civil lawsuit filed by a person injured in a crash with a police cruiser through successive rungs of the state’s judicial ladder, culminating recently in a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court.

The central facts in the accident are easily told. A Clinton Township police officer responded to a radio call from a Franklin County deputy seeking assistance in a traffic matter. While en route, he collided with another car, injuring a female passenger. She filed suit seeking recovery form Clinton Township.

The trial court ruled against her, citing state law that grants immunity to a township and police officer when the latter is responding to a call for assistance.

She appealed, but a state appellate court reached the same result.

Not satisfied, the plaintiff sought Supreme Court review, arguing that immunity does not attach where there is no mutual-aid agreement between municipalities. She alleged that the officer had no professional duty to respond to a call for help from another jurisdiction and, moreover, no arrest powers outside his jurisdiction.

The Court disagreed, affirming the appellate court’s ruling. Its written opinion stated that an officer’s lack of arrest powers does not play into his or her professional obligation to respond to another officer’s call for help, regardless if that call comes from outside the officer’s jurisdiction.

The Court additionally held that state statutes “by their clear terms grant immunity to a political subdivision when an officer is responding to a call to duty.”

Related Resource: Insurance Journal, “Ohio Supreme Court: Township not Liable for Officer’s Out-of-Jurisdiction Crash” Sept. 20, 2011