Sometimes, car accidents occur when a police officer is responding to a call and in many cases, depending on the facts of the case, laws exist which provide immunity–for police officers and their employers–from liability in personal injury lawsuits. In determining whether immunity applies, the courts must first decide if officer was “was engaged in the execution or enforcement of the law when the collision occurred.” This is because police officers engaged in law enforcement activities are only liable for the accident if it is found that the officer was acting in a wilful and wanton manner thus showing “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
In Stehlik v. Village or Orland Park, 2012 WL 555970 (Ill.App. 1 Dist.), the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, was faced with just such a determination.
In this case, the plaintiffs were involved in an automobile accident when their vehicle was struck by an Orland Park Police Department police cruiser being driving by Officer Gerald Kelly. Following the accident, the plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit alleging that at the time of the accident, Officer Kelly was not engaged in the enforcement or execution of the law, and even if he was, his actions were so negligent that they rose to the level of wilful and wanton conduct, thus precluding immunity and rendering him liable for the accident and their injuries.
At trial, the trial court disagreed with the plaintiffs and granted the defendants’ motion for a directed verdict and dismissed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed, alleging that there were issues of fact that should have been decided by a jury.
The Appellate Court of Illinois disagreed with the plaintiffs. After examining the facts and concluding that the officer was in fact engaged in law enforcement activity at the time of the car accident, the Court then turned to ascertaining whether his conduct was wilful and wanton. The Court explained that “Wilful and wanton conduct is defined in section 1–210 of the Act as: ‘a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or which, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property. This definition shall apply in any case where a ‘willful and wanton’ exception is incorporated into any immunity under this Act.” 745 ILCS 10/1–210 (West 1998).'”
The Court then examined the officer’s conduct in the case at issue and held that the trial court properly directed a verdict in favor of the defense, since the officer’s actions at the time of the accident were reasonable:
Although plaintiffs contend Officer Kelly’s actions could be inferred as wilfully and wantonly negligent based on the fact that he made an illegal U-turn in a non-emergency situation, we find there is simply no evidence to support a reasonable inference that Officer Kelly’s actions rose to the level of wilful and wanton conduct. Both Officer Kelly and the plaintiffs testified the officer was traveling at a speed below 20 miles per hour with his emergency lights already activated prior to initiating the turn. The evidence also indicates that traffic was already stopped in the opposite direction on 143rd Street, and that Officer Kelly was not aware plaintiffs’ vehicle was following closely behind him when he activated his left-hand turn signal and started to make the turn.
Thus, unfortunately for the injured plaintiffs in this Illinois personal injury lawsuit, the Court upheld the trial court’s decision and dismissed the lawsuit.