The Utah Supreme Court held, on August 6, 2013, that law enforcement officers owe a duty of care to all persons, including fleeing suspects. Torrie v. Weber County, 2013 UT 48 (2013). In this case, Deputy Harper, of the Weber County Sheriff’s office, was pursuing a 16 year old boy who had taken the family car without permission. The boy took the car after being teased by his classmates at school. After leaving with the car, the boy texted his mother telling her he was suicidal and his mother told the police that her son “was threatening to commit suicide by crashing the vehicle if police attempted to apprehend him.” The boy’s mother, however, did not request the police to stop looking for her son.
Officer Harper located the 16 year old boy and gave him pursuit at speeds of up to 99 mph in a 40 mph zone. After less than a minute with Deputy Harper in pursuit, the boy rolled the car in a neighboring field and was ejected during the roll. The 16 year old boy died from his injuries.
According to Utah’s Supreme Court, the express language of Utah Code section 41-6a-212 mandates a duty of care by law enforcement to fleeing suspects because the legislature did not carve out any exceptions. While finding that a duty was owed to fleeing suspects, the court reiterated that “the imposition of a duty is a separate and distinct analysis from breach and proximate cause.” The court said that to “impose liability upon Deputy Harper, the fact finder will also need to be persuaded that his conduct was the proximate cause” of the boy’s accident. The boy’s parents will need to establish that “Deputy Harper did not conduct his pursuit . . . ‘as a reasonably prudent emergency vehicle operator in like circumstances.'”
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