Young v. Jefferson County: Negligence By Government Drivers

Accidents involving government drivers – from law enforcement officers to garbage collectors – can be challenging for Asheville car accident attorneys in terms of establishing liability.
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The fact is, government workers can be at-fault in an accident. But municipalities and government entities frequently claim state immunity as a way to shield themselves from litigation.

This is not an absolute protection, however, and you won’t know how strong your case is until you speak with an experienced injury lawyer.

A recent case reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court revealed how these situations can sometimes present an uphill battle for someone who has been injured. In Young v. Jefferson County, the two injured people were minors. They were in the custody of the county’s youth services, which handles children and teens who are deemed delinquent.

At the time of the crash, a deputy for the county was lawfully transporting two teens from a court appearance. The youth were seated in the rear of the van while handcuffed. As the deputy approached an intersection, another driver entered that intersection without yielding, crashing into the van. The two teens in the back sustained multiple serious injuries.

Thankfully, their injuries were not life-threatening.

Families of the two teens subsequently filed suit against the county, alleging that the deputy had been negligent in several regards. He had failed to secure their seat belts and he had driven into an intersection without first ensuring it was clear.

The county filed a partial motion to dismiss on the grounds that as a government entity, it was immune. However, the trial court denied this motion. The court of appeals affirmed this ruling, finding that the county had waived its immunity under state law.

The county again appealed under a state law providing governmental immunity for civil and criminal liability specifically on the part of law enforcement officers who are acting in good faith under the direction of the court. Further, the statutes indicates that “good faith” is to be presumed unless proven otherwise.

Attorneys for the teens contended that the deputy had not acted in good faith because he had “failed to act in faithfulness to his duty or obligation” because he did not properly secure the minors in their seat belts.

However, the county contended that the lower courts had erred in determining that negligence alone was sufficient grounds to overcome this presumption of good faith.

The state supreme court sided with the county, remanding the case with a rule to show cause, a directive to the plaintiffs to tell the court why the trial court’s order shouldn’t be vacated. The court held that something more than negligence has to be alleged. It has to be shown that the law enforcement officer was somehow operating in bad faith.

States vary with regard to how they choose to handle claims made against workers employed by the state. Here, car accident injury negligence lawsuits against state workers have to be filed under the State Tort Claims Act, with the North Carolina Industrial Commission determining whether the state was negligent and, if so, to what degree.

Total damages in these cases are capped at $1 million.

If you have been injured in a traffic accident, contact the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Young v. Jefferson County, Jan. 13, 2014, Colorado Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Suing the State for Car Accident Involving Government Worker, Dec. 23, 2014, Asheville Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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