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Bill advances to protect Utah police from chase-related lawsuits

Published March 4, 2014 2:28 pm

Controversial • Critics say it gives them too much protection, may allow recklessness.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Criminal suspects who initiate high-speed chases with police soon may no longer be able to sue officers or their agencies if the pursuits result in accidents and injuries.

The Senate voted 15-13 on Tuesday for HB20. Because it was amended in the Senate, the bill now goes back to the House.

The measure was controversial because critics say it would give police too much protection and allow them to avoid lawsuits even if they ignore training and engage in reckless behavior

Its Senate sponsor, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said families of people who fled officers have filed lawsuits for death or injuries in chases. He said law officers need more protection from being sued as long as they follow protocol.

But Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, argued the protections are too broad, could encourage reckless police behavior, and give those injured no recourse to sue even if police ignore their training.

"An officer who disregards their training has no exposure," Madsen said, adding it prevents a judge and jury from even considering whether actions were too extreme.

The Senate tacked on an amendment saying that the bill's broader protection would not extend to an unmarked police vehicle initiating a chase.

"We don't want a situation where someone is not sure who is pulling them over," Weiler said.

He added that most agencies have a policy to bring marked cars into such chases and have unmarked cars drop out. Once that happens, he says, the wider protection offered by the bill would apply.

The measure stems from a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling, which held the family of teenager Wayne Torrie, killed in a 2010 chase with a Weber County sheriff's deputy, could sue the deputy for damages. The suit is pending.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, the bill's sponsor and the human resources director for Weber County, said police are called on to make instant life-and-death decisions and shouldn't have to fear lawsuits, as well.