Nikopoulos v. Haigler. (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-16-0436, 13 pp.) (Linda M. McGee, J.) Appealed from Stanly County Superior Court. (Joseph N. Crosswhite, J.) N.C. App. Click here for the full text of the opinion.
Holding: Where the plaintiff-motorcyclist led police on a high-speed chase, it was not gross negligence for the defendant-police chief to pass a car on the left and glance back to make sure he had cleared the car, thus taking his eyes off plaintiff for a brief moment.
Summary judgment for defendants is affirmed.
In any civil action resulting from the vehicular pursuit of a law violator, the gross negligence standard applies in determining the officer’s liability.
Plaintiff contends the defendant police-chief “acted with a conscious and reckless disregard of an unreasonably high probability of injury in light of the minimal law enforcement benefits. …” We disagree.
In determining whether the conduct of a police officer during a high-speed chase meets any standard of negligence, the court must consider the reason for the pursuit, whether the suspect was known to police and could be arrested through means other than apprehension via a high-speed chase, and whether the fleeing suspect presented a danger to the public that could only be abated by immediate pursuit.
G.S. § 20-145 exempts police officers from speed laws when engaged in the pursuit of a law violator.
The facts show that the police chief was attempting to apprehend a motorcyclist whom he knew from other officers’ reports over the radio had been traveling at excessive speeds in several towns, and he witnessed the motorcycle being operated at 65 mph in a 35 mph zone. The chief knew from reports that plaintiff had dangerously followed an ambulance, and the chief witnessed plaintiff “pop a wheelie” in an intersection and come within feet of hitting another officer standing in the intersection.
Plaintiff contends that the police chief failed to maintain control of his vehicle when, after passing a car on its left and taking his eyes off of plaintiff for a moment, the chief collided with plaintiff’s motorcycle.
The police chief’s conduct was neither done with a wicked purpose, nor needlessly, so as to manifest a reckless indifference to the rights of others. On the contrary, the chief had good reason to attempt to remove plaintiff from the road due to the immediate and significant potential danger to the public posed by his driving at excessive speeds.
The police chief momentarily took his eyes off a fleeing suspect in order to observe the motorist he was passing, and, upon returning his attention to plaintiff, found that plaintiff had slowed down such that the chief was unable to avoid colliding with plaintiff’s motorcycle. These circumstances do not exemplify the degree of conscious or reckless indifference toward the safety of others necessary to establish gross negligence.
Since we have concluded that plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to his claim of negligence and gross negligence against defendants, we need not address his argument concerning the doctrine of last clear chance.