Jennings v. Agne – 10/20/2022

December 29, 2022

The Arizona Court of Appeals Divisions One holds that the operator of an emergency vehicle is not liable unless she acted with reckless disregard.

While responding to an emergency call, a police officer was caught in a red light, and the officer moved into the intersection to clear the way. A car then entered the intersection and hit the officer’s vehicle. The car owner filed suit against the officer and the City of Mesa (together “Officer”) alleging negligence. The superior court denied the Officer’s motion for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals, on special action, reviewed the case and remanded the superior court’s decision. The Court began its review with A.R.S. § 28-624(D)—the statute that sets forth the standard of care applicable to emergency vehicles responding to an emergency. The statute “does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard . . . and does not protect the driver from the consequences of the driver’s reckless disregard for the safety of others.”  The car owner argued that “due regard” called for a standard of ordinary negligence. In contrast, the Officer argued that “reckless disregard” set forth the correct standard. The Court agreed with the Officer, reckless disregard was the correct standard. Finding otherwise would render “reckless disregard” meaningless and contravene statutory construction, which requires each word, phrase, clause, or sentence be given meaning. In other words, police officers responding to an emergency call must not drive with reckless disregard.

The Court also addressed whether qualified immunity applied. Qualified immunity shields an officer for certain discretionary acts. The car owner, however, asserted that driving was not a discretionary act, and therefore, immunity was inapplicable. The Court disagreed in part. While driving from one point to another is not discretionary, driving in response to an active emergency is.

The Court of Appeals Division One remanded for reconsideration.

Judge Perkins authored the opinion of the Court; Judges Weinzweig and Furuya joined.

Posted by:  Annabel Barraza