Weekend Collision with Cop Car in Los Angeles County Leaves Two Dead
A collision between a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department patrol car and a Ford Explorer in Palmdale Saturday resulted in the deaths of two of the passengers of the SUV and injuries to the other people involved in the accident.
The accident occurred when a sherriff’s deputy patrol car travelling east down Avenue R broad-sided a Ford Explorer which was driving north across Avenue R from 17th Street. The driver and front-seat passenger of the Explorer, who were wearing seatbelts, received only minor injuries and refused medical attention at the scene. Unfortunately, the two occupants in the back seat were not wearing seat belts. These passengers were thrown from the vehicle and killed. The sheriff’s deputy was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The speed limit on Avenue R is 50 miles per hour, and there is a stop sign for vehicles turning onto Avenue R from 17th Street. It is unclear how fast the Deputy was travelling at the time of the impact, but some witnesses report that the vehicle was speeding. There were also conflicting accounts about whether the Explorer stopped at the stop sign or not before heading across Avenue R. The patrol car did not have its emergency lights or sirens activated, and it is not known what the deputy was responding to at the time of the accident.
Expect Civil Liability for Sheriff’s Department, but Not for Deputy
The laws regarding civil liability of public agencies for traffic accidents caused by public employees can be found in the California Vehicle Code sections 17000-17004.7. Section 17001 clearly states that a public entity is liable for wrongful death or personal injury caused by the negligence or wrongful act of an employee acting within the scope of employment. Section 17004, on the other hand, states that the employee is not liable for civil damages resulting from operation of an authorized emergency vehicle while responding to an emergency call in the line of duty.
Although many facts are still unknown, it seems likely that the deputy was acting within the scope of employment at the time of the crash, thereby imposing liability on the sheriff’s department under section 17001 if he is shown to have been negligent in his driving. An important factor for the deputy will be whether he was responding to an emergency call at the time or not. Not all emergency responses require flashing lights and/or sirens, so if it can be proven that the deputy was responding to an emergency call at the time, then section 17004 should allow him to escape civil liability personally.