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Legislature seeks to protect cops from crash liability

Published February 4, 2014 8:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Utah Legislature is seeking to protect police officers from being held liable for injuries that suspects sustain in accidents during high-speed chases.

HB20, which passed the House 64-10 Tuesday, stems from a Utah Supreme Court ruling in August, in which the court ruled the family of a teen-ager killed in a 2010 chase with a Weber County sheriff's deputy could sue the deputy for damages.

The teen, Wayne Torrie, had stolen the parents' car and led police on a 99-mph chase before dying in a crash.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, sponsored the legislation, arguing that lawmakers should protect law-enforcement officers who are doing their jobs within the normal policies and guidelines.

"If a person is a suspect and decides to flee a legal pursuit or a legal stop by a legal law-enforcement officer, that if they choose to put themselves in danger, then we don't owe them a duty of care and we can't be held liable if they do something to kill themselves," Dee said.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, a retired Utah Highway Patrol officer, said law enforcement needs the protection, and officers were aware of the court ruling.

"Since this ruling, I have heard comments such as this: 'I will never, ever chase another vehicle. If someone decides to run, I'm just going to go the other way,'" Greenwood said. "Those are not the comments I want to hear from our professional people out on the street."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, argued the immunity extended by the bill was too broad and would also keep the families of passengers in the car from seeking damages. The measure was amended to only provide immunity if the passengers were in the car voluntarily.