The Utah Supreme Court has ruled a Salt Lake County man cannot sue the Utah Highway Patrol after he alleged a trooper allowed him to fall on his face while handcuffed.

In a unanimous ruling issued Tuesday, the justices said the troopers who arrested Thomas Peck were protected under governmental immunity from claims of negligence.

According to the ruling, two UHP troopers approached Peck at a gas station on Sept. 17, 2002, and arrested him on a charge of drunken driving. After placing him in handcuffs, the troopers told Peck to stand in front of the police cruiser while they cleared an area in the back seat to take him to jail. Peck refused to comply and shouted at the troopers.

A rainstorm had ended just before the arrest, and as one trooper tried to take Peck down to the ground slowly, the trooper slipped and lost control of Peck, whose hands were cuffed behind his back. Unable to break his fall, Peck landed face-first on the ground, causing head trauma and facial injuries.

Peck sued UHP and the troopers, claiming they were negligent in allowing him to fall on his face. A district judge upheld Peck's claim, citing that an arrest must occur "in a place of legal confinement" such as a jail, in order for governmental immunity to apply.

However the justices say Peck's injury took place while he was in custody and there was a "causal connection" to the jail, where he was being transported. Under this ruling, the troopers are protected from the suit, the ruling states.

The high court has reversed the district court's decision and has ordered that the suit against UHP and the troopers be dismissed.


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