Peak v. Ratliff

In Peak v. Ratliff, 185 W. Va. 548, 408 S.E.2d 300 (1991), a driver brought an action against state troopers and the West Virginia Department of Safety to recover for injuries sustained when a vehicle being pursued by the state troopers collided with the driver's vehicle. The defendants in Peak, state troopers and the state Department of Public Safety, are not governed by The Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act which does not apply to state agencies and state employees. The Court in Peak found the applicable standard of care in W.Va. Code 17C-2-5(d) which governs the drivers of authorized emergency vehicles when in the pursuit of criminal suspects. Because the instant case concerns political subdivisions and their employees, it is governed by both W.Va. Code 17C-2-5 and The Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act. These code sections agree that an employee of a political subdivision who is driving an authorized emergency vehicle in the pursuit of a criminal suspect is personally liable for injury or loss resulting from a collision between the vehicle being pursued and a third party if the driver of the emergency vehicle is guilty of reckless or grossly negligent conduct. ("The phrase 'reckless disregard for the safety of others' used in W.Va. Code, 17C-5-2(d), is synonymous with gross negligence." Peak, 185 W. Va. at 552, n. 4, 408 S.E.2d at 304, n. 4. The circuit court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the troopers and the Department, and the driver appealed. Concerning the applicable standard of care, the Court held in Syllabus Point 5 of Peak: "Where the police are engaged in a vehicular pursuit of a known or suspected law violator, and the pursued vehicle collides with the vehicle of a third party, under W.Va. Code, 17C-2-5 (1971), the pursuing officer is not liable for injuries to the third party arising out of the collision unless the officer's conduct in the pursuit amounted to reckless conduct or gross negligence and was a substantial factor in bringing about the collision."