Police officers have a fundamental duty to serve the public and to safeguard lives and property. Generally speaking, Petersburg Police Officers do a great job satisfying this duty, and are a valued part of the Richmond / Petersburg community. However, occasionally an officer fails in his duty and actually creates more harm than good. In those circumstances, can a police officer be liable for the harm created? Here is what you need to know:
In general, Petersburg Police Officers acting within the scope of their authority have qualified immunity. This means that an officer acting within the scope of his or her authority is protected from liability (lawsuits) stemming from personal injury accidents involving simple negligence, but not gross negligence. There is an exception to this general rule – namely, that an officer acting outside the scope of his or her authority is not protected from acts of simple negligence.
What is gross negligence? Gross negligence is “that degree of negligence which shows [such] indifference to others as constitutes an utter disregard of prudence amounting to a complete neglect of the safety of [another]. It must be such a degree of negligence as would shock fair-minded [people] although something less than willful recklessness.” Green v. Ingram, 269 Va. 281, 290-91, 608 S.E.2d 917, 922 (2005).
We just discussed gross negligence, now let’s discuss the scope of authority. How do you determine if an officer was acting within the scope of his authority when an injury occurred? Here is a good example: Let’s say that an officer is not permitted to initiate a high-speed police chase in instances of misdemeanor theft; the police officer violates this rule and initiates a high-speed chase anyway. The officer is no longer operating within the scope of his authority while he conducts the high-speed pursuit. In this situation, the officer may be liable for acts of simple negligence that cause injury during the course of the high-speed pursuit.
At Cuthbert Law Officers we appreciate and respect the service that the Petersburg Police Department provides our city. However, when an officer acts with gross negligence and causes injury or death to a member of our community as a result, Cuthbert Law Offices is available to represent the victim in a suit brought against the Petersburg Police Department.
In our next blog entry, I will discuss four cases against area Police Officers that Cuthbert Law Offices has handled.