California Police Officers Duty of Reasonable Care During Traffic Stop

Grudt v. City of Los Angeles (1970) 2 Cal. 3d 575, at page 587, 86 Cal. Rptr. 465, 468 P.2d 825, implicitly concluded law enforcement officers owe a duty of reasonable care to persons stopped for traffic violations. Grudt stated: "The evidence favorable to plaintiff raised a reasonable doubt whether the police officers acted in a manner consistent with their duty of care when they originally decided to apprehend Grudt, when they approached his vehicle with drawn weapons, and when they shot him to death." (Ibid.) Grudt reversed the judgment for the defendants because the trial court erroneously precluded the plaintiff's negligence theory of liability and excluded a police tactical manual as evidence of the officers' standard of reasonable care. (Id. at pp. 585-588; cf. Mann v. State of California (1977) 70 Cal. App. 3d 773, 780, 139 Cal. Rptr. 82, superseded by statute on other grounds as noted in Adams v. City of Fremont, supra, 68 Cal. App. 4th at p. 283, fn. 31 "Once, having apprised himself of the dangerous position of the stranded motorists and those about them, such as plaintiff, the officer had a duty to exercise ordinary care to protect these people from traffic dangers . . . .".) Reed v. City of San Diego (1947) 77 Cal. App. 2d 860, 177 P.2d 21 did not directly address the issue of the duty of reasonable care owed by law enforcement officers to occupants of cars stopped by them for traffic violations, but it affirmed a judgment on a jury verdict for the plaintiff in a factual situation similar to that in Whitton. Reed also concluded that the defendant officers were not statutorily immune from liability for their negligence. ( Id. at pp. 862-868.) Public employees are liable for injuries caused by their negligence to the same extent as private persons, except as otherwise specifically provided by law. ( Gov. Code, 820.) Public entities are liable for the negligent acts of their employees who are acting within the scope of their employment, except as otherwise specifically provided by law. ( 815.2.)