The Court of Appeal of the State of California

Fourth Appellate District
Division Three
November 26, 2002


The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, speaks out about a state law in California (still in existence today!) that "leaves public safety twisting in the wind." This state law provides immunity to police agencies that adopt a pursuit policy but does not require that the policy be followed.  The information below is taken from pages 8 and 9 of the court's opinion: Hoa Nguyen et al. v. City of Westminster (pdf)

In so deciding this case, we wish to express our displeasure with the current version of section 17004.7. As noted, one reason for extending immunity to a public entity that adopts a written policy on vehicle pursuits is to advance the goal of public safety. But the law in its current state simply grants a "get out of liability free card" to public entities that go through the formality of adopting such a policy. There is no requirement the public entity implement the policy through training or other means. Simply adopting the policy is sufficient under the current state of the law. (See Payne v. City of Perris, supra, 12 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1744-1745, 1747, fn. 3; Hooper v. City of Chula Vista (1989) 212 Cal.App.3d 442, 456, disapproved on another ground in Thomas v. City of Richmond (1995) 9 Cal.4th 1154, 1165.)

Unfortunately, the adoption of a policy which may never be implemented is cold comfort to innocent bystanders. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: We will never know because defendant did not have to prove Ingwerson or the other police officers participating in this pursuit followed the policy. It is especially chilling that this particular instance occurred on the property of a school where students were present, but it is also sad that one blameless person was seriously injured as a result of the pursuit, and that his family has no option for redress.

We urge the Legislature to revisit this statute and seriously reconsider the balance between public entity immunity and public safety. The balance appears to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety, as well as compensation for innocent victims, twisting in the wind.

The judgment is affirmed. Respondent shall recover its costs on appeal.