Sovereign Immunity No Protection for Sheriff Who Allegedly Caused Rear End Crash

Melissa H. Katz, Esquire
December 15th, 2013
By: Melissa H. Katz, Esquire

While driving two work inmates in a city vehicle to a job site, a sergeant for the sheriff’s department in the City of Chesapeake rear ended another driver. A personal injury action ensued. The defendant sergeant filed a plea in bar arguing that he was protected under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The trial court disagreed and denied the plea in bar. The court found that routine driving activities are ministerial functions that do not give rise to the cloak of sovereign immunity. When the driver is required to exercise judgment and discretion unique to the driving situation, and where the act of driving implicates a substantial government interest, the driver is entitled to sovereign immunity. The court did not buy defendant’s argument that he had to exercise judgment and discretion when transporting inmates. The court noted that there was no evidence that defendant’s emergency lights were activated or that he was ordered to disobey routine traffic rules. There was no evidence that the inmates exhibited behavior that would excuse the duty of care imposed on every driver. In order to trigger the doctrine of sovereign immunity to apply in a motor vehicle accident case, the evidence must establish that the government employee was doing more than simply routine driving activities. (See case of Rafter v. Miller, No. 12-3042, Chesapeake Cir Ct).


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