Thursday, May 2, 2013
State Supreme Court Will Not Hear Claim That CHP Caused Delay in Aiding Fresno Crash Victims
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a ruling in favor of the California Highway Patrol in a lawsuit charging that the CHP’s negligence contributed to a fatal traffic collision in Fresno in July 2010.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, left standing a Fifth District Court of Appeal ruling that the CHP cannot be held liable for a communications delay that allegedly contributed to the deaths of six people who were killed when a Greyhound bus smashed into a disabled SUV.
The Fifth District panel agreed with Fresno Superior Court Judge Donald Black, who dismissed a cross-complaint by Greyhound Lines, Inc., which was sued for negligence in the aftermath of the collision on Highway 99.
The SUV crashed and had come to rest on its side blocking at least one lane. The bus hit the SUV about three minutes later, killing all three of its occupants, as well as three people on the bus, including the driver.
The Fresno Bee, citing a coroner’s report, said the 18-year-old driver of the SUV had a blood alcohol level of .11.
Greyhound cross-complained against the CHP and others. Against the Highway Patrol, it alleged that before the bus hit the disabled SUV, passing drivers reported the initial SUV crash to 911, but the CHP 911 operator entered an incorrect code in a computer, causing an unnecessary delay in responding.
Caltrans, Greyhound alleged, was liable for a dangerous condition of the highway.
Black sustained the CHP’s demurrer, on grounds that there was no mandatory duty to respond, that there was no allegation of a special relationship, and that police-protection immunity under Government Code Sec. 845 and the qualified immunity of 911 operators under Health and Safety Code Sec. 1799.107 barred the claim.
Justice Herbert Levy, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the CHP is not liable as a matter of law because a law enforcement agency has no special relationship with an imperiled individual unless it has made an express or implied promise to assist. Only in “unusual cases,” the jurist noted, has a court held that such a promise was made or could be implied.
A finding of liability under the narrow rule, the justice elaborated, requires that the defendant have increased the risk to the plaintiff or caused the plaintiff to detrimentally rely on the alleged promise.
Levy said Greyhound was relying on “speculation and conjecture” in alleging that the 911 callers would have stopped and assisted the passengers themselves had they not been told that the CHP was on its way. The 911 passengers, he added, didn’t have a duty to render aid and it would be speculative to have expected them to do so, especially since the bus hit the SUV only three minutes after the initial collision.
“If we were to accept Greyhound’s argument and find a special relationship under these circumstances, it would serve to make CHP virtually an insurer of safety on the highway instead of an enforcer of the Vehicle Code,” the justice wrote.
The case is Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Department of California Highway Patrol (2013) 213 Cal. App. 4th 1129.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company