Governmental Immunity in Mississippi Wrongful Death


In a recent Mississippi Supreme Court decision, the Court ruled on a wrongful death case. The case arose when a police officer saw a car turn off its lights and make a U-turn. The officer turned on his blue lights and siren and pursued a man, calling his supervisor to tell him he was pursuing for violating a traffic ordinance.

The superior officer instructed him by radio to stop. The officer said that he turned off his siren and saw the man’s taillights as he went through the intersection. As he drove forward, he saw smoke. An accident had happened.

The man who was being pursued had crashed with a vehicle occupied by two women and a man. One of the women died, and the other two were seriously injured. The family of the woman who died brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the city that employed the police officers. The family alleged the officer had acted in reckless disregard for the safety of people not engaged in criminal conduct. The government claimed governmental immunity.

A bench trial was conducted. The trial court found the City 100% at fault and entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The appellate court reversed, finding the officer hadn’t acted in reckless disregard and agreeing the government was immune.

The plaintiffs sought review by the Mississippi Supreme Court, arguing that the appellate court had misinterpreted the factors to find the law enforcement officers acted in reckless disregard. They also argued that the appellate court had improperly weighed the evidence, made credibility determinations, and improperly substituted its judgment.

The Court reversed, finding the appellate court had misinterpreted and misapplied the factors for deciding whether the police had shown reckless disregard.

Under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, the government is shielded from liability based on an act or omission of an employee of the government who is engaged in the performance of duties related to police or fire protection, except when acting in “reckless disregard” for the safety of others not engaged in criminal activity. Reckless disregard is more than negligence. Reckless disregard is found when there is some awareness of the risk, and also intentional disregard of it.

An earlier case set forth a six-factor test for reckless disregard in a police chase scenario: the length of the chase, the type of neighborhood, the kinds of streets, the presence of foot or car traffic, weather conditions, and the seriousness of the offense suspected or known. Another case added four more factors: whether the police followed with sirens and blue lights, whether there were reasonable alternatives, whether the police’s policy prohibited the particular chase, and the officer’s speed compared to the pursued vehicle’s speed.

At the time of the accident in question, the policy required a police officer to weigh the risks to society against the benefits of getting the suspect. The pursuit is supposed to be executed with caution so that there isn’t extreme danger to the public or the officer. In this case, the officer had not seen a felony take place, nor even had probable cause to suspect that one had been committed. The Court reasoned that the police had a policy that prohibited continued pursuit under the circumstances.

The Court found there was substantial evidence to support the finding of reckless disregard. Accordingly, the city could not assert governmental immunity to the suit.

If a loved one is killed due to governmental negligence, the knowledgeable Mississippi personal injury attorneys of Coxwell & Associates may be able to help pursue the damages you deserve and need.

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Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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