Weekly Law Resume - January 26, 2012: Police Officers – Investigative Immunity Applies Even Where “Special Relationship” With Injured Motorist Exists

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Ronald Strong v. State of California
Court of Appeal, Second District (November 20, 2011)

Law enforcement officers often face lawsuits arising from their conduct at accident scenes and in subsequent investigations. In this case, the Court of Appeal, Second District, examined the contours of an officer’s duty to motorists involved in accidents as well as the statutory immunity for the officer’s investigation.

Plaintiff Jack Strong was riding his motorcycle in Malibu on May 15, 2006, when the driver of a second vehicle entered the roadway unsafely, colliding with and injuring him. California Highway Patrol Officer Christopher Swanberg arrived at the scene and spoke with Strong, who asked the officer for the identity of the second driver. Officer Swanberg did not provide the requested information at that time, but assured Strong that it would be in the accident report. Relying on this assurance, Strong did not secure that information himself. Officer Swanberg then apparently lost or destroyed the second driver’s contact information. In his accident report, he inaccurately attributed fault for the accident to Strong. The CHP conducted an internal investigation, concluding that Officer Swanberg improperly lost the contact information and then wrote a traffic report erroneously faulting Strong.

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