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U.S. Supreme Court Opinion on Vehicle Pursuit Immunity


Ramirez v. City of Gardena, Opinion No. S244549, filed August 13, 2018

      This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a public agency still qualifies for Vehicle Code Section 17004.7's vehicle pursuit immunity even if the public entity does not fully meet the written certification requirement of its vehicle pursuit policy.

      If, pursuant to Vehicle Code Section 17004.7, a public agency adopts and promulgates a vehicle pursuit policy, and the agency provides annual training on that policy, then the public agency is immune from liability for property damage or personal injuries (including death) caused by a suspect's vehicle during a vehicle pursuit. "Promulgation" of the policy includes having a written requirement that all peace officers certify in writing that they have received, read, and understand the vehicle pursuit policy. A public agency does not need to reach 100% compliance with the written certification requirement in order to receive immunity pursuant to Section 17004.7.

     In Ramirez v. Gardena, a suspect's mother filed a wrongful death suit against Gardena PD after the suspect died from injuries sustained during a vehicle pursuit. The plaintiff argued that the City is ineligible for Section 17004.7 immunity because the City did not prove that all of its officers signed written certifications as required by the city's vehicle pursuit policy. After reviewing the plain language and legislative history of Section 17004.7, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' rulings in favor of the City, and concluded that, to qualify for immunity under Section 17004.7, a public agency's vehicle pursuit policy must contain the written certification requirement, but the agency does not have to achieve 100% compliance with that written certification requirement.

      A public agency that wishes to qualify for immunity pursuant to Vehicle Code Section 17004.7 should provide annual training on its vehicle pursuit policy, confirm that its vehicle pursuit policy includes the factors listed in Section 17004.7(c), and confirm that the policy requires all peace officers to provide written certification of reading and understanding the policy. Public entities that use Lexipol for their policy manuals likely already have a vehicle pursuit policy that includes a written certification requirement. Although the Supreme Court has held that a public agency does not need to obtain a written certification from all peace officers, public agencies should continue to make a good faith effort to comply with Section 17004.7 by having each peace officer certify in writing that he or she has read and understood the vehicle pursuit policy.

     If you have questions about what this case means for your public entity, please contact Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin.

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