Deputy Sheriff Rowell Quemuel noticed a car heading the wrong direction on a one-way street. He flicked on his lights, pursued, and pulled the driver over. As he opened his door to exit the car ...
Mark Moreno saw the lights from two or three blocks away, yet was taken by surprise when a car door opened up immediately in front of his motorcycle. He is now suing for negligence and negligence per se, pursuant to Vehicle Code section 22517, which requires motorists to only open a traffic-facing car door when safe.
The accident probably looked something like this:
You're probably wondering: what was the motorcycle doing riding so close to a police car that had its lights on and was clearly in the process of stopping a car? We're wondering the same thing, but alas, the court's holding rested on different grounds.
VC Section 17004 provides immunity for public employees who cause injury "when in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law." Moreno argues that "pursuit" requires the two parties to be in motion, not stopped on the side of the road.
Quemuel, on the other hand, feels like pursuit should be given a broader definition, as a present effort to secure or attain something (in this case, a suspect).
The court sides with Quemuel, citing legislative context (later provisions in the statute apply to car chases, which would be redundant if both required active, moving, narrowly-defined pursuit) and public policy ("it is important for an officer to freely use discretion when deciding where to place his or her attention during a traffic stop.")
And if the officer prioritizes elsewhere, and doesn't check his mirror before swinging his car door out, leading to a collision with a passing motorcycle and injuries to the rider, well, we'll just hope the motorcyclist has good health insurance.
- Moreno v. Quemuel (Cal. Ct. Appeal)
- No Liability for Passengers That Liquored-Up Underage Driver (FindLaw's California Case Law Blog)
- CA Wants Reimbursement from NV for Greyhound Therapy (FindLaw's California Case Law Blog)