Jan. 13, 2014 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide whether the City of Racine is liable for injuries caused by an officer who ran a red light, as the state’s high court recently accepted review of this governmental immunity case and four others.
Wis. Stat. section 346.03(2)(b) and (3) allow police officers to disobey stop signs and red lights to respond to emergencies or pursue suspects, so long as they slow the vehicle “as may be necessary for safe operation” and activate lights and sirens.
However, section 346.03(5) creates a “duty to drive or ride with due regard under the circumstances for the safety of all persons” and does not protect officers from the consequences of driving with “reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
Under this legal backdrop, on a summer night in 2009, Racine Police Officer Amy Matson responded to a car accident. Speeding with lights and sirens engaged, she approached an intersection, and slowed down to 27 mph before running a red light.
Eileen Legue entered the intersection on a green light. She did not see the police car’s lights, and did not hear the sirens because of music playing in her car. The vehicles collided, and both Matson and Legue sustained injuries from the crash.
Legue sued Matson and the City of Racine, which invoked the governmental immunity defense under Wis. Stat. section 893.80(4). That provision insulates government actors from liability for acts “done in the exercise of legislative, quasi-legislative, judicial or quasi-judicial functions.”
Ultimately, a circuit court ruled that Matson was immune from liability. The appeals court certified the case, Legue v. City of Racine, 2012AP2499, to the supreme court.
The supreme court will examine whether governmental immunity applies when someone is injured because an officer proceeds against a traffic signal but arguably violates a duty to operate the vehicle with due regard under the circumstances.
Jackson v. Wis. Co. Mut. Ins. Corp., 2012AP1644
The supreme court will decide what constitutes “use” of a car for purposes of insurance coverage. While on foot, a Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputy was struck by an underinsured car while working at General Mitchell International Airport.
Milwaukee County’s insurance policy, which covered the deputy, provided underinsured motorist coverage to an insured “while using an automobile at the time of the accident within the scope of his or her employment or authority.”
The appeals court ruled that the deputy was considered to be “using” the car that struck her, and thus covered, because she was helping the driver to reenter traffic.
State v. Bokenyi, 2012AP2557-CR
This case examines whether a prosecutor breached a plea agreement by allegedly undermining the agreed-upon sentencing recommendation at the sentencing hearing, and whether a defense counsel was ineffective for failing to object.
State v. Spaeth, 2012AP2170
The central question in this certification from the court of appeals is whether a Wis. Stat. ch. 980 petition to commit a sexually violent offender may specify a predicate offense that is not the same offense for which the person is in custody.
State v. O’Brien, 2012AP1769-CR
Consolidated with State v. Butts, this case presents a constitutional challenge to a recently enacted statute that allows hearsay evidence to be introduced and relied upon for a finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing.
Martin and Kathleen O’Brien were charged with multiple counts of child abuse. Both challenged hearsay evidence that was used to establish probable cause.
State v. Butts, 2012AP1863-CR
Consolidated with State v. O’Brien, this case presents a constitutional challenge to a recently enacted statute that allows hearsay evidence to be introduced and relied upon for a finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing.
The state charged Charles Butts with child sexual assault and child enticement as a persistent repeater. Two minors stated that Butts sexually assaulted them. At the preliminary hearing, a detective testified as to the minors’ statements.
Summaries derived from full summaries posted at www.wicourts.gov.