†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER

If a police officer pulls you over, does he have an obligation to keep you safe?Yes, answered the California Supreme Court in August by a four to two decision.The State Supreme Court permitted a negligence lawsuit to proceed to trial against the California Highway Patrol as a result of the truck being rear-ended by a car on the freeway.The truck was stopped along a highway median strip by a CHP officer.The question which the jury will now be permitted to decide is whether or not the CHP officer violated protocol and was negligent when he made the traffic stop in the center divider area rather than having the individual pull to the right-hand shoulder.While being ticketed in the center divider lane, the familyís truck was crashed into and one adult and three children suffered serious injuries.The adult suffered permanent brain damage, and will likely be institutionalized for life.

 

The State Supreme Court decided that there is a real issue here, as the CHP manual tells officers to make right shoulder stops whenever possible.This case will now proceed to jury trial.Initially, the San Diego judge who was handling this case dismissed it; however, the Court of Appeal reinstated it.

 


I am in favor of this lawsuit proceeding.The CHP argues that there are situations in which the right shoulder is less safe than the center median, and that this tragedy could have happened even with a right shoulder stop.I think that is something to be considered, but it should be considered by a jury rather than having the case thrown out of court.Reasonableness and reasonable care is the standard used in a case such as this.The jury will have to decide whether or not the CHP officer used reasonable care in his decision to make the stop and pull the truck over at the center divider or whether reasonable care would have required that the officer pull the truck over to the right shoulder area.If the CHP officer is deemed to have made a reasonable decision and acted consistently with his duty of care to motorists that he stops, then he and the CHP will be found not guilty.If alternatively, it is found by the jury that the officer did not exercise reasonable care in pulling this truck over at the center divider median, the jury will find the CHP officer and the CHP guilty and appropriate damages will have to be paid.

 

I often like to take a look at the potential results from a courtís decision, and in this case, this decision will do nothing but motivate Highway Patrol officers to be even more careful than I am certain they already are in deciding where to make a vehicle stop.