Midfield Officer Not Entitled to Immunity for Car Wreck

This is a car wreck case from Jefferson County, Alabama, Kendrick v. City of Midfield. City of Midfield Officer Wordell was dispatched responding to a domestic call. In route to the call, the officer collided with a vehicle owned by Sharon Parker and driven by Keneisha Kendrick, her daughter. Parker’s insurance paid Officer Wordell and the City of Midfield for the loss of the vehicle. Kendrick sued the City of Midfield and Officer Wordell in March, 2013.

Officer Wordell testified that he slowed as he approached the intersection with both his lights and sirens. Kendrick testified that Officer Wordell did not have his police lights on, and a third witness testified that Wordell sped through the intersection at around 50 mph.

Code of Alabama, § 6-5-338 which is designed to protect officers like Officer Wordell, states, “Every peace officer, except constables, who is employed or appointed pursuant to the Constitution or statutes of this state… shall have immunity from tort liability arising out of his or her conduct in performance of any discretionary function within the line and scope of his or her law enforcement duties.” Both Officer Wordell and the City of Midfield filed motions for summary judgment claiming officer immunity.

The trial court granted the motion and Kendrick appealed.

On appeal, Kendrick argued that the peace officer’s immunity did not apply to Officer Wordell due to him failing to slow down at the intersection. Kendrick contends that Wordell violated Code of Alabama, 1975, § 32-5A-7 which allows emergency vehicles to proceed past intersections exceeding the speed limit, but only after slowing down and using an audible signal to ensure there is no danger to any life or property.

According to the conflicting testimony presented by both parties, it is unclear whether Officer Wordell ever slowed down or had his flashers on. Thus creating an issue of material fact. Based on the evidence that was presented, the Supreme Court reversed the motion granting summary judgment and held “based on the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of Officer Wordell on the basis of Code of Alabama, 1975, § 6-5-¬338. Because the City’s liability is linked to Wordell’s, the trial court likewise erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of the City.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based solely on a question of material facts of the case. In Blackwood v. Brown, the court stated that when a peace officer is seeking immunity from liability that “the driving of an authorized emergency vehicle in response to an emergency call, …the immunity afforded the peace officer … is subject to, and limited by, the conditions imposed by § 32-5A-7.” Blackwood v. Brown, 936 So. 2d 495 (Ala. 2006).

It is unclear whether Officer Wordell did abide by § 32-5A-7, which is a condition that must be met to have immunity under Code of Alabama, 1975 § 6-5-338. Conflicting testimony on that issue creates a genuine issue of material fact.

Based on the facts presented so far, it is clear that the trail court should not have granted a summary judgment. Anytime there are questions of material facts of a case, it is up to trier of the fact to reach an outcome.

If you are involved in a car wreck and are injured, please contact Ingram Law LLC, or Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 236-3997..

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