Appellate Court Addresses Scope of Governmental Immunity in Indiana Personal Injury Claim

Recently, an Indiana high appeals court issued an opinion hinging on the scope of governmental immunity. In this case, an accident victim tried to sue an Indiana state trooper after they were involved in an accident. The state trooper was not on duty when the accident occurred but was driving a state police-issued vehicle, commonly called a “commission.” As such, the state trooper argued that he was not liable under the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA). On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the office was personally responsible as his acts were “clearly outside the scope” of his employment.

Here, the state police issued the trooper his commission, which was subject to police standard operating procedures (SOP). The SOP provided guidelines for operating the vehicle when the vehicle was on or off-duty and during emergency and non-emergency situations. The SOP requires troopers to maintain radio contact even while off-duty, avoid violating traffic laws, unless necessary, and respond to emergency situations. Further, the SOP authorized troopers to use their commission, on a minimal basis, for their transportation.

On the day of the accident, the trooper completed his shift, went home to shower, and left in his commission to go to his son’s baseball game. While he was driving southbound to his son’s game, he attempted to pass the vehicle in front of him by crossing into the northbound lane. As he transitioned to the opposite lane, he saw a motorcycle approaching and quickly moved back into his lane. However, the motorcycle driver did not have enough time to slow down and ended up abruptly locking his brakes, which caused his vehicle to roll over and eject both he and his passenger. In response to the motorcyclist’s personal injury claim, the trooper argued that he was immune under the ITCA, because he was within the scope of his employment.

The ITCA sets forth parameters that determine when a government employee can be held liable for their negligent acts. Generally, whether an individual was within the scope of their employment is a fact question. However, in cases where the facts are undisputed, a court may find that the act or omission was not within the scope of employment. Here, the plaintiff argued that the trooper’s actions had no causal relationship to his employment, and he was violating the state police SOP, by disobeying traffic laws. The court reasoned that the trooper complied with the majority of the SOP, and his presence on the road was a benefit to the state. They ultimately concluded that the trooper was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and, therefore, immune from liability.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Negligent Indiana Government Employee?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries or death because of the negligent acts of an Indiana governmental entity or employee, you should contact Padove Law. Attorney Burton Padove has 30 years of experience successfully representing and recovering compensation for his clients in all types of Indiana wrongful death cases. He takes an individualized approach to each case and makes sure that his client’s rights and remedies are aggressively represented. Contact his office at 877-446-5294 to schedule your free initial consultation.