Police officers in police pursuit were protected by official immunity

Lonnie Decker filed a petition for wrongful death against Sgt. Dirk Helms and Police Chief Joe Edwards of the De Soto Police Department as well as several other defendants following the death of Decker’s daughter, Lillian Flath. Flath was a passenger in a vehicle who died during an automobile accident during a police pursuit by separate defendant Officer David Krassinger. Helms and Edwards filed separate motions to dismiss Decker’s claims against them, arguing they are protected under the official immunity doctrine.

The official immunity doctrine protects public officials from being sued in individual capacities for alleged negligible acts committed while those individuals were performing official duties during discretionary situations. decker argued that ยง 544.157.4 states the duty to supervise vehicular pursuits is ministerial. However, if a public officer does not perform a ministerial duty that is required by law, that individual may be personally liable for damages caused by not performing that duty. The central question when determining whether an act is ministerial “is whether there is any room whatsoever for variation in when and how a particular task can be done.” If there is, the duty is not ministerial.

The circuit court overruled the motions submitted by Helms and Edwards, but the Supreme court of Missouri issued an Permanent Writ of Prohibition. “Sergeant Helms and Chief Edwards may have been negligent in failing to fulfill these discretionary duties with due regard for the public safety and in such a way as to protect Ms. Flath–and this Court assumes as much for purposes of this analysis–but the doctrine of official immunity prohibits the courts of this state from holding them personally liable for such a failure.”

State ex rel. Officer Sergeant Dirk Helms v. Rathert, No. SC 98711 (Mo. banc 2021)

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