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Court: Public duty doctrine does not apply in injury case against Billings officer

Wednesday, May 9, 2018   (0 Comments)
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The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an innocent bystander can sue a Montana police officer personally for an injury the person claims was caused directly by the officer’s negligent actions.

The 7-0 ruling was in answer to a certified question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of a Billings man who claims he was injured when a police officer tackled him while pursuing a suspect in a reported disturbance who jumped over a wall into the man’s yard.

Officer Paul Lamantia argued that the public-duty doctrine shields him from liability. The homeowner, Robert Bassett, argued that because he was directly injured by Lamantia’s actions, Lamantia owed him a duty of care. The court’s decision was limited to whether Lamantia owed the homeowner a legal duty under Montana law.

The court considered whether the public-duty doctrine applied to Bassett’s claim that Lamantia acted negligently when he tackled Bassett to the ground. The court held that the public-duty doctrine recognizes that an officer owes a duty to protect and preserve the peace to the public generally.

Accordingly, the public-duty doctrine only applies to an officer’s duty to protect the public and does not apply to exclude a legal duty an officer may owe to a person injured directly by the officer’s affirmative actions. Independent of the duty to protect and based on generally applicable principles of negligence, an officer may owe a legal duty to a person injured directly by the officer’s affirmative actions. The court held the public-duty doctrine did not apply. The court next concluded that, under general principles of negligence, Lamantia owed Bassett a legal duty to exercise the same care that a reasonable officer with similar skill, training, and experience would under the same or similar circumstances.

Read the opinion here.