Maryland Court Rules Police Officers Immune from Liability in Personal Injury Case

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently ruled on an appeal in a personal injury claim against two Baltimore City police officers. In Freedman v. Wright (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 27, 2016), the plaintiff awoke to a fire in her apartment building. She cried for help from her third-story window, and two police officers arrived on the ground below her window. The plaintiff alleged that the officers ordered her to jump and stated that she would be okay. However, the plaintiff hit the ground when the officers did not catch or break her fall, and as a result, she suffered various injuries. The plaintiff brought suit against the officers and the Baltimore City Police Department. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff appealed.

Public official immunity is a common-law doctrine that limits certain officials’ liability for official acts. An official must satisfy three conditions to qualify for immunity:  (1) he or she must be a public official; (2) his or her tortious conduct must have occurred while performing discretionary acts in furtherance of official duties; (3) the acts must be done without malice or gross negligence. Gross negligence has been defined as an intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences affecting the life or property of another, without the exertion of any effort to avoid them.

On appeal, the police officers argued that they were entitled to public official immunity, and as a result, the plaintiff’s complaint was properly dismissed. The Court of Special Appeals found that based on the facts of the case, it was clear that the police officers met all three conditions of public official immunity. First, the police officers are public officials, and they were acting within the scope of their official duties when they arrived at the scene of the fire. In addition, the police officers were acting within their official function of community care-taking, which permits police to investigate or assist citizens who may need help or who are in danger.

Second, the court defined discretion as the power conferred upon the officers by law to act officially under certain circumstances according to their own judgment and conscience, without being controlled by the judgment of others. The court concluded that attempting to help the plaintiff rescue herself from a burning building was clearly a task left to the police officers’ own judgment and conscience. It therefore held that the officers performed discretionary acts in allegedly ordering the plaintiff to jump. Finally, the court found that the plaintiff’s allegations against the officers, even if true, did not rise to the level of malice or gross negligence required to defeat immunity. The court went on to affirm the circuit court’s dismissal of the claims against the officers.

Negligence claims can be complex, especially when identifying the parties who may be held liable for injuries.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys possess the skill and resources required to pursue compensation for our clients after an accident. Our firm provides legal representation to Maryland residents involved in premises liability claims, car crashes, medical malpractice, and others. To discuss your case with a knowledgeable injury attorney, call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Addresses Discovery Issue in Lead Paint Suit, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 31, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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