California AG: Okay For Police To Abandon Drunk Motorist On Highway

A police officer who stopped an intoxicated motorcyclist in Anaheim, wrote a ticket for speeding, impounded the vehicle and left the incapacitated man standing on the side of the highway isn't liable for massive injuries suffered when another motorist struck him at 60 m.p.h. as he stumbled home, according to Kamala Harris' California Attorney General's office.

Given that stance, the AG's office has urged U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Daniel Fernandez, but his lawyer, Jonathan A. Falcioni, believes CHP officer D. Howard abused his state powers by negligently abandoning his drunk client who'd been traveling at 100 m.p.h. on Interstate 5 miles after a 2013 night of libations at the Bottoms Up Bar.

"[Fernandez's] complaint alleges that Howard knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known of the conditions then existing and despite such knowledge subjected plaintiff to a known danger by leaving him intoxicated and stranded near high speed traffic miles away from his home," Falcioni told the judge.

The AG's office claims the officer "had no duty" to oversee Fernandez's safety after the stop and as he walked home on the shoulder of the 22 Freeway.

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This month inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Staton ruled that the AG office's dismissal argument failed. According to the judge, "as a general rule" state employees are exempt from lawsuits declaring negligence for their role in causing subsequent injuries, but there is an exemption.

"Under the 'danger creation' exemption, state actors may be held liable where they affirmatively place an individual in danger by acting with deliberate indifference to a known or obvious danger in subjecting the plaintiff to it," the judge observed. "Accordingly, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged Officer Howard affirmatively created a situation that posed a significant risk of harm to the plaintiff."

Using the same rationale, Staton also rejected the AG's request to dismiss CHP from the lawsuit.

The judge believes a future jury should decide fault or, in the alternative, the parties could reach a pretrial settlement after mediation.

Traditionally, the AG's office defends police actions even when unethical as THIS prior story noted.

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