California Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Police in a Pursuit Accident Case
by Karen A. Feld on August 15, 2018
The California Supreme Court issued a very favorable ruling in favor of police agencies on August 13, 2018. In an unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that a police department that requires ALL of the officers to certify that they have read and understood the vehicle-pursuit policy can claim immunity even if all its members failed to sign. Ramirez v. City of Gardena (2018) S244549.
Mark Gamar was a passenger in a truck being pursued by Gardena police. The truck spun into a pole after being bumped by a police car and Gamar died. The City had a written policy on vehicle pursuits and City training required all officers to certify that they read and understood the policy. The training log showed that only 81 of 92 officers completed the training and only 64 officers had signed the certification.
Garmar’s mother sued the City. The trial court granted the City’s summary judgment motion on the ground that ‘City properly promulgated its pursuit policy in compliance with Vehicle Code [section] 17004.7[, subd.](b) and provided regular and periodic training.’ Plaintiff appealed claiming that summary judgment was not proper because the City did not prove that all of the officers had signed the certification. The First District Court of Appeal upheld the summary judgment because the City’s pursuit policy had a 100% certification requirement.
Plaintiff filed a Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court. The question was whether a city could claim immunity if it had the 100% compliance policy or whether it had to make sure 100% of the officers actually complied with the policy. The Court concluded that it was enough for the entity to have the policy, even in the absence of 100% compliance.
The Ramirez case overturns the holding in Morgan v. Beaumont Police Dept. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 144. The Morgan Court had concluded that the statute required proof that each officer provide a written certification as a condition of immunity.
Based on this court ruling, it is imperative for every public agency to have a police pursuit policy that requires ALL police officers to certify that they have read and understood it. While the public agency does not need all of the certifications under this new law, it would be advisable to achieve as close to 100% compliance as possible.