The Ohio Supreme Court recently explored the question of whether Ohio political-subdivision immunity applies to an action claiming negligent hiring, training, and supervision of a police officer involved in an accident while responding to an emergency call.

The case stems from an incident in 2013 where an officer was responding to a call regarding a stolen vehicle. The officer located the vehicle being towed by a sedan heading towards Youngstown. He pulled up alongside the sedan and questioned the occupants who claimed they owned the vehicle being towed. The officer then pulled up behind the vehicle, and as he radioed for backup, the suspects unhooked the stolen vehicle and drove away in the sedan.

The officer eventually lost sight of the sedan, but continued the pursuit in the direction he believed the suspects were heading, reaching speeds as high as 76 mph. As he approached an intersection, he collided with a vehicle driven by an individual on her way to work. The individual then struck a utility pole, sustaining serious injuries as a result of the crash.

The woman filed suit against the officer, the township, and the police department, alleging the officer was “negligent, willful, or wanton” in his operation of the police cruiser and that the township negligently hired, trained, or supervised the officer. The officer and the township moved for summary judgment asserting immunity from the suit under R.C. 2744, Ohio’s political subdivision immunity statute. The statute provides immunity to political subdivisions (counties, townships, cities, etc.) and their employees who are performing governmental functions. The immunity is not absolute and is subject to certain exceptions.

The trial court denied summary judgment, finding a question of material fact regarding whether the officer was acting within the scope of his employment, whether his actions rose to the level of wanton misconduct or recklessness, and whether the township was liable for its conduct in hiring, training, and supervising its officers. The Seventh District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in part and reversed in part, finding a question of material fact regarding whether the officer’s actions constituted willful and wanton misconduct and whether the township was negligent in training, hiring, and supervising him.

The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately reversed the judgement of the Court of Appeals and held that a political subdivision is immune from liability under R.C. 2744 for allegations of negligent hiring, or failure to train or supervise the officer.

The attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff, LLP routinely defend law enforcement agencies and their employees in state and federal court. If you have any questions about this case or any other matter, please contact one of the attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff LLP at 614.221.1216.