No City Liability for Police-Pursuit Death

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Mark Gamar died when police nudged his car into a street pole during a high-speed chase. He was the passenger.

His mother sued the City of Gardena for negligence and wrongful death, but the city won based on a state law that says police are immune if they receive annual training on police pursuits. In Ramirez v. City of Gardena, the California Supreme Court affirmed.

It came down to the difference between police actually being trained and just saying they are.

Just Saying

Using a "pursuit intervention technique," Officer Michael Nguyen bumped the rear fender of the driver's truck that sent Gamar to this death on Feb. 15, 2015. Irma Ramirez sued in state court.

The Supreme Court said the city was immune under Vehicle Code Section 17004.7. The law gives public entities' civil immunity for personal injury or death in police pursuits, so long as police "certify in writing that they have received, read, and understand" annual training in vehicular pursuits.

Nguyen certified that he received the training, but not every officer did. Lt. Mike Saffell said "some forms might have been lost during the police department's move to a new station."

The plaintiff argued the city should not be immune because not all the officers complied with the training policy. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court said they didn't have to.

Total Compliance, Not

The unanimous panel said the city "does not have to prove total compliance" as a condition of immunity. Writing for the court, Justice Ming Chin said a requirement may exist "even if not every peace officer complies with it."

"We conclude that the agency's policy must require the written certification, but 100 percent compliance with that requirement is not a prerequisite to receiving the immunity," he wrote.

Abdalla Innabi, who represented the plaintiff, said the decision makes people less safe by protecting police no matter "how negligent, how egregious, how reckless" they are.

"The standard is now so low that any department will be immune," he said. "All they have to say is, 'We have a requirement,' and that's good enough."

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