Key Decisions

March 2013 – CHP Had No Duty To Injured Bus Passengers

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | March 22, 2013)

CHP Had No Duty To Injured Bus Passengers

Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Department of the California Highway Patrol
(Cal. Ct. of App., 5th Dist.), filed January 23, 2013 

KEY FACTS

In the early morning, an SUV was in a single vehicle rollover accident that left it on its side blocking one of the lanes of traffic on State Route 99.  The SUV’s headlights and taillights were out and its dark undercarriage was facing on-coming traffic.

A truck driver reported this accident to a CHP 911 operator.  A second motorist also called 911.  The 911 operator did not flag the accident as blocking traffic lanes and as a result, it was not noted as a priority.

Approximately three minutes after these reports, a Greyhound bus hit the SUV.  The bus collision resulted in the deaths of three bus passengers and the three occupants of the SUV.

As a result of the bus collision, Greyhound was sued for damages based on its alleged negligence.  It cross-complained against various cross-defendants including the California Highway Patrol.  Greyhound alleged that CHP was negligent in that, upon being alerted to the first accident by passing motorists, the CHP 911 operator failed to enter the code for lane blockage and thus the CHP response was unnecessarily delayed.

The trial court sustained CHP’s demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed Greyhound’s cross-complaint as against CHP.

HOLDING & REASONING

The Court of Appeal affirmed.

The court held that under California law, law enforcement personnel, including CHP officers, have no duty to come to the aid of another unless a special relationship exists between the injured party and the officers.  Such a special relationship arises if an officer’s affirmative act creates the peril, or contributes to, increases, or changes the risk that otherwise exists.

There was no special relationship between CHP and the injured bus passengers.  CHP did not perform any affirmative acts to create the peril, to increase it or to change it.

The court rejected Greyhound’s argument that CHP owed a duty of care to the bus passengers based on the 911 operator’s assurances to the 911 callers that CHP was on the way.  According to Greyhound, the CHP operator lulled the callers into a false sense of security and dissuaded them from rendering further assistance.  However, the test was not whether CHP lulled the callers into a false sense of security, but rather whether it lulled the bus passengers into one.  That, it did not do.  Further, as to whether the callers would have rendered further assistance had the CHP operator not said that CHP was on its way, that was “replete with speculation and conjecture” and would not give rise to a cause of action.

ANALYSIS

The court’s opinion seemed to recognize that any broad recognition of duty would expose emergency service providers to liability in too many situations.