Recently, an appellate court released an opinion addressing when Indiana courts can impose individual liability on a government employee. The Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA), provides very few avenues of relief for individuals who wish to recover after suffering injuries that were caused by the negligent acts or omissions of a government employee. However, recovery is possible in certain types of accidents.
In this case, the Indiana State Police issued a trooper an unmarked Dodge charger, commonly referred to as the officer’s “commission.” As part of the officer’s responsibilities, he was required to maintain radio contact at all times, even while off-duty, abide by traffic laws, and to respond to emergencies as needed. On the day of the incident, the trooper completed his shift, and went home to change before his son’s baseball game. As he was driving to the game, he shifted from the northbound lane into the southbound lane to pass the vehicle in front of him. When he entered the southbound lane, he noticed an oncoming motorcycle, and he shifted back. However, in an attempt to avoid the officer, the motorcyclist swerved, causing the motorcycle to roll over, ultimately ejecting himself and his passenger.
The motorcyclist suffered serious injuries and subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against the trooper. The trooper moved to dismiss the case, arguing that he was immune from suit because he was acting within the scope of employment while driving his vehicle. Lawmakers designed the ITCA to ensure that government employees can exercise their judgment without constant threats of litigation. Lawsuits against government officials can only succeed if the alleged negligent act or omission was clearly outside of the employee’s employment. These analyses are generally a question of fact; however, in some instances, courts may find that the act was not within the scope, as a matter of law.