In a Good Opinion for Public Entities, Court Clarifies Police Officers' Duties to Injured Persons

May 26, 2010, by Meyers Nave

In an opinion published last week, the Court of Appeal for the Second District, found that California Highway Patrol officers who responded to an automobile accident were not liable to an injured person who refused treatment at the scene and left of her own accord. The plaintiff in Camp v. State of California, B209176, was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver, who drove off a country road near Santa Maria. Two CHP officers responded to the accident and repeatedly asked Camp if she required medical assistance; each time, she refused. A friend eventually carried Camp to another car and drove her away, but she was hospitalized a few hours later with severe spinal cord injuries. She sued the State, contending that the CHP officers’ alleged negligence in assessing her condition at the scene was a substantial cause of her injuries.

The jury awarded Camp nearly $2.7 million in damages. The Court of Appeal's opinion reversing the award thoroughly reviews the law on the duties of police officers who encounter injured persons. Ultimately, most important to the Court was its conclusion that, by merely assessing whether Camp was injured, the officers did not voluntarily assume a duty to provide her a particular level of protection.

This opinion is important and relevant to local law enforcement officers as well, because it confirms that officers owe no general duty of care in managing an accident scene. Officers only assume a duty of care if they engage in affirmative conduct that induces reliance by an injured person, or change the injured person's risk of harm.

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