Athay v. Stacey

Decision Date22 November 2005
Docket NumberNo. 31164.,31164.
Citation142 Idaho 360,128 P.3d 897
PartiesKyle ATHAY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Dale M. STACEY, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Rich County, Utah; Rich County, Utah, a political subdivision of the State of Utah; Chad Ludwig, individually and in his official capacity as a Deputy Sheriff of the Bear Lake County Sheriff's Department; Gregg Athay, individually and in his official capacity as Captain of the Sheriff's Department of Bear Lake County, Idaho; Brent Bunn, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Bear Lake County, Idaho; Bear Lake County, Idaho, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Craig R. Jorgensen, Pocatello, argued for appellants.

Naylor & Hales, P.C., Boise, for respondents Chad Ludwig, Gregg Athay, Brent Bunn, and Bear Lake County. Kirtlan G. Naylor argued.

Stirba & Hathaway, Utah, and Pike & Smith, P.A., Idaho Falls, for respondents Dale Stacey and Rich County. Peter Stirba argued.

EISMANN, Justice.

This is an appeal from summary judgments dismissing the Plaintiffs' claims arising from a collision involving a driver fleeing a police pursuit. The district court held that none of the individual defendants' conduct reached the level of reckless disregard or was a proximate cause of the collision. We affirm in part and vacate in part.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 10, 1999, at approximately 10:12 p.m., the sheriff's dispatcher for Rich County, Utah, broadcast a call that a possible drunken driver in a green Mustang bearing Idaho license plate 3C 1086 was heading north from the town of Randolph in northern Utah. Dale Stacey, the Rich County Sheriff (Sheriff Stacey), heard the radio call and headed to intercept the Mustang. Upon locating the car, Sheriff Stacey followed it for about one-and-one-half miles and observed it cross the centerline twice and the fog line four times. He decided to stop the car at the Sage Creek Junction, near the Utah-Wyoming border, to investigate whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol.

As the Mustang approached the stop sign at the junction, Sheriff Stacey activated the overhead lights on his Chevrolet pickup. The Mustang ran through the stop sign and headed east toward Lincoln County, Wyoming. Sheriff Stacey activated the siren on his pickup and began pursuit. The Mustang accelerated to about 70 mph, and then to over 96 mph. The Sheriff's pickup had a governor that prevented it from traveling faster than 96 mph, and so he was unable to catch the Mustang. The Mustang driver's conduct gave Sheriff Stacey probable cause to believe that the driver was committing the felony offense of eluding.

After entering Wyoming, the Mustang headed north. At Cokeville, Wyoming, it slowed to about 40 mph, and Sheriff Stacey was able to catch up to it. Upon leaving Cokeville, however, the Mustang's driver again sped up, leaving the Sheriff behind.

The highway then curved northwesterly, toward Bear Lake County located in southeast Idaho. Sheriff Stacey radioed for assistance to the Bear Lake County Sheriff's office. In response, Chad Ludwig, a deputy sheriff, (Deputy Ludwig) drove to a point southeast of Montpelier, Idaho, where he attempted to stop the Mustang using spike strips. He only succeeded in deflating its right front tire.

After crossing the spike strip, the Mustang did slow down to about 50 mph, allowing Sheriff Stacey to catch up. Once he did, however, the Mustang immediately accelerated to around 96 mph. It passed deputy sheriff Gregg Athay (Deputy Athay),1 who had stopped on the highway two miles from where the spike strips had been deployed. Deputy Athay joined in the pursuit after the Mustang and Sheriff Stacey passed his position, and Deputy Ludwig also joined in the pursuit behind Deputy Athay.

The Mustang sped through Montpelier, Idaho, at a speed of 94 mph with the three police vehicles in pursuit. According to witnesses, the Mustang's lights were turned off as it was racing through Montpelier. While passing the Ranch Hand Truck Stop, located about two miles north of Montpelier, the Mustang swerved to avoid colliding with an oncoming semi-truck that was turning left into the truck stop. The driver of the semi-truck later stated that he did not even see the Mustang.

About one mile past the truck stop, the Mustang collided with a car driven by the plaintiff-appellant Kyle Athay (Athay). He had stopped to assist two teenage girls whose car had hit a deer. He was just driving away from the scene of that accident when the Mustang slammed into the rear of his car at a speed of approximately 104 mph. Athay was severely injured in the collision. The pursuit had lasted about forty-five minutes through three states. After the collision, the driver of the Mustang was identified as Darrell Ervin (Ervin).

On April 19, 2002, Kyle and Melissa Athay (Athays) filed this lawsuit against Sheriff Stacey, Rich County, Deputy Ludwig, Deputy Athay, Brent Bunn (the Sheriff of Bear Lake County), and Bear Lake County. The district court dismissed the complaint after granting the Defendants' motions for summary judgment, and Athays timely appealed.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

A. Does Idaho Code § 49-623 establish a reckless disregard standard of care for police pursuits?

B. Does Idaho Code § 49-623 apply to the Rich County Sheriff?

C. Did the district court err in striking the affidavit of the Athays' expert?

D. Did the district court err in granting summary judgment to the Defendants?

E. Does the limit of liability established by Idaho Code § 6-926 apply to Sheriff Stacey and Rich County?

F. Did the district court err in failing to grant sanctions against the Bear Lake Defendants?

G. Are the Athays entitled to an award of attorney fees on appeal?

III. ANALYSIS

A. Does Idaho Code § 49-623 Establish a Reckless Disregard Standard of Care for Police Pursuits?

Idaho Code § 49-623 provides as follows:

(1) The driver of an authorized emergency or police vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, but subject to the conditions stated.

(2) The driver of an authorized emergency or police vehicle may:

(a) Park or stand, irrespective of the parking or standing provisions of this title;

(b) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation;

(c) Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property;

(d) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.

(3) The exemptions granted to an authorized emergency or police vehicle shall apply when necessary to warn and to make use of an audible signal having a decibel rating of at least one hundred (100) at a distance of ten (10) feet and/or is displaying a flashing light visible in a 360 degree arc at a distance of one thousand (1,000) feet under normal atmospheric conditions.

(4) The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency or police vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall these provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.

The focus of the dispute centers upon the words "due regard" and "reckless disregard" in subparagraph (4) of the statute. The Athays argue that it establishes two standards of care: due regard, which they equate with negligence, and reckless disregard. They contend that for policy reasons we should apply the negligence standard and simply disregard the last phrase of the statute referring to reckless disregard.

The interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which we exercise free review. Idaho Dept. of Labor v. Sunset Marts, Inc., 140 Idaho 207, 91 P.3d 1111 (2004). When construing a statute, the words used must be given their plain, usual, and ordinary meaning, and the statute must be construed as a whole. Waters Garbage v. Shoshone County, 138 Idaho 648, 67 P.3d 1260 (2003). We must give effect to every word, clause and sentence of a statute, and the construction of a statute should be adopted which does not deprive provisions of the statute of their meaning. George W. Watkins Family v. Messenger, 118 Idaho 537, 540, 797 P.2d 1385, 1388 (1990).

We are not at liberty to simply disregard a portion of the statute. The last phrase of Idaho Code § 49-623(4) states, "nor shall these provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others." It would be meaningless unless it establishes a reckless disregard standard. It would make no sense to interpret the statute as providing that the driver of an authorized emergency or police vehicle is liable for his or her negligence and will not be protected from his or her reckless disregard for the safety of others. If the driver is liable for negligence, then whether the driver's conduct also reached the level of reckless disregard would not matter.

The confusion arises as a result of equating the words "due regard" with negligence. The words "due regard" mean "consideration in a degree appropriate to demands of the particular case." Black's Law Dictionary (Rev. 4th ed.1968) p. 590. They are not words of art synonymous with negligence. In enacting Idaho Code § 49-623, the legislature obviously balanced the need for emergency or police vehicles to respond quickly in emergencies or to pursue fleeing law violators with the risks created by such conduct. It decided that in such circumstances, due regard for the safety of others is a reckless disregard standard.

The district court held that Idaho Code §...

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