SALT LAKE CITY — A bill looking to give broad immunity to officers involved in police chases squeaked through the Senate by the skin of its teeth with a 15-13 vote Tuesday.
HB20 would give law enforcement officers immunity when it comes to suspects injured in police chases where the police vehicle is marked. It states an officer "owes no duty of care" to a person voluntarily evading police during a chase.
An officer could only be liable for injuries sustained by a fleeing suspect if the officer had "malicious motive" to cause injury, according to the bill.
The bill would only apply to injuries sustained by a fleeing suspect and anyone willingly participating, not an innocent bystander, according to bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
“If someone is suspected of committing a crime and they choose to start a police chase, do we as a state want to give them a right to go to a jury trial if they’re injured as a result of their poor choices? And if the answer’s no, we don’t want them to be able to go to a jury trial on their injuries, then the bill’s appropriate,” Weiler said.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, firmly voiced his concerns during the debate Monday and Tuesday, saying he and fellow lawmakers had been getting "a lot of misdirection" on what the bill actually does.
Madsen said under current code, police officers in pursuits are protected from liability if they comply with department training and standards. He said HB20 would mean officers couldn’t be taken to court, even if they don’t abide by department policies.
“I have a real problem with that,” Madsen said. “I do believe that one of the basic rights we have is to petition government for a redress of damages and I think this flies in the face of that.”
He said if the first element to a negligence claim is duty of care, which he said HB20 would eliminate, those seeking redress will "never have their day in court" if the bill passes.
Weiler said he and Madsen are two attorneys reading the bill differently. He said HB20 clarifies there is no duty of care owed to an injured suspect if the officer follows protocol.
"This bill does not in any way whatsoever relieve an officer from complying with his own department’s policies," Weiler said.
Because the bill has been modified, HB20 will now head back to the House for further consideration.
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