Thursday, February 5, 2015

PA Supreme Court Says Police Owe No Duty of Care to Passengers in Fleeing Vehicles (Also--Interesting Comment by Court on MSJ Evidence)

In its recent decision in the case of Sellers v. Township of Abington, No. 97 MAP 2013 (Pa. Dec. 29, 2014) (Majority Opinion by Stevens, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment in a police pursuit case after finding that the police owed no common-law duty to a passenger in a vehicle fleeing from them in a high speed chase.

As support for this decision, the court stated that an injury to an unknown passenger is not foreseeable and imposing a duty upon the police owed to unknown passengers in a fleeing vehicle would be an unreasonable and unworkable burden, that would essentially serve to halt any police pursuits and encourage criminals to flee.  

Also of note from this decision is a statement by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the last few paragraphs of the majority Opinion in which the court found that there were no genuine factual disputes to preclude the entry of summary judgment where, despite conflicts in the testimony of the witnesses, the police on-board cameras’ video of the incident “blatantly contradict[ed]” the contrary oral testimony offered by the Plaintiff.  

As noted by Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith who is one of the creators and writers of the highly recommended DRUG AND DEVICE LAW BLOG, and who tipped me off on this decision, such statements by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could support other similar arguments.

For example, as noted by Attorney Beck, in the context of a summary judgment motion, not only can valid, contemporaneous video tape evidence be utilized to support a Motion for Summary Judgment despite contradicting oral testimony, but perhaps automotive “black box” information could be utilized in the same fashion to support or defeat such a motion despite testimonial evidence to the contrary on a particular issue.  

Interesting thought.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the majority Opinion issued by Justice Stevens of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Sellers case can click this LINK.
Justice Saylor's Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.
Justice Todd's Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.
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