Reversal at Supreme Court in Police Negligence Case

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Howd & Ludorf, LLC Partner Thomas R. Gerarde recently won a reversal from the Connecticut Supreme Court of an Appellate Court decision denying immunity to Westbrook Police officers in Brooks v. Powers.  In Brooks, a citizen notified Westbrook police officer Robert Powers of an elderly woman in a field who was unprotected in a driving rainstorm.  The citizen related that the woman needed help.  Officer Powers had an assignment at the Town Marina so he called the state police dispatcher and asked if there was another officer who could be dispatched.  The dispatcher indicated she would dispatch another officer but neglected to do so.  The woman was found the next morning drowned in Long Island sound about ½ mile away from the field she was in the previous night.  The woman’s estate sued Officer Powers arguing that he was negligent for not responding immediately to the woman in field when he was notified by the citizen.  Officer Powers moved for summary judgment based on governmental immunity, arguing that his decision whether to respond himself or ask dispatch to send another was discretionary—and the identifiable person/imminent harm exception did not apply because Officer Powers reasonable believed that another officer was on the way to see the woman in the field. The trial court granted summary judgment, but the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed—holding that an issue of fact existed regarding whether the Plaintiff was identifiable to Powers as being at risk of imminent harm.  The Supreme Court then reversed the Appellate Court, holding that the presence of the woman in the field in the rain, while unusual, did not qualify as an apparent imminent harm sufficient to trigger the exception to immunity.  In addition the potential for this woman to drown in Long Island Sound ½ mile away was not in the realm of what would be apparent to an officer who heard she was in the field in the rain.  The Supreme court held that governmental immunity barred the Plaintiffs claim and entered judgment for the Defendants.