Recently in Borelli, Administratrix v. Renaldi, et al., the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the decision by a police officer to pursue a fleeing motor vehicle is discretionary in nature and thus entitled to governmental immunity pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-557(a)(2).
In Borelli, the defendant Anthony Renaldi, a police officer, attempted to pull over a motor vehicle after observing that it had “underglow lights” which are illegal in Connecticut. The operator of the motor vehicle fled, and a police chase ensued. During the pursuit, the fleeing motor vehicle collided with an embankment and the decedent, who was a passenger, was killed.His estate brought a negligence action against Renaldi, who moved for summary judgment on the basis that governmental immunity barred the claim. The trial court granted the motion.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court incorrectly granted the motion for summary judgment because Renaldi’s decision to pursue the fleeing motor vehicle was not a “discretionary” act. Rather, the plaintiff argued that Conn. Gen. Stat. §14-283(d) requires that police officers “drive with due regard for the safety of all persons and property.” Based on this statute, the plaintiff contended that the decision to pursue a fleeing motor vehicle is “ministerial” in nature and exempt from governmental immunity.
The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument after analyzing the definition of “due regard” as found in Black’s Law Dictionary, among other textual sources, and held that the definition of “due regard…rather than mandating a particular response to specific conditions, imposes a general duty on officers to exercise their judgment and discretion in a reasonable manner.” The Connecticut Supreme Court also reviewed the Uniform Statewide Pursuit Policy and found that these regulations “do not constrain the officer’s discretionary determination of the decision at issue in this appeal – the determination of whether to pursue.”
In sum, Borelli expands the category of acts which the Connecticut Supreme Court has recognized as allowing for the exercise of discretion and, therefore, protected by governmental immunity. It is important to note, however, that the Connecticut Supreme Court emphasized that the appeal did not address whether the manner in which a police officer operates his motor vehicle might be a ministerial act under certain circumstances. As such, the Connecticut Supreme Court has left the determination of this question for another day.