LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – On December 30, 2017, two police officers in Pittsfield Township, Michigan assisted a man who had driven his car off the roadway. They called a tow truck and helped the man get back on the road.
About an hour later, officials say that man then crashed head-on with another car, killing himself and a wife and mother named Lake Jacobson.
Soon after the crash, police learned the man’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit.
The family of Jacobson sued the officers, claiming they were negligent in performing their duties by allowing a drunk driver to get back on the road after he crashed the first time. But the Michigan Court of Appeals recently dismissed the lawsuit against the officers.
Attorney Bryan Waldman from the Sinas Dramis Law Firm spoke with WLNS’ Chivon Kloepfer to explain why.
“It’s important here to understand the core appeals is bound to follow precedent or rules established by the Michigan Supreme court,” says Waldman. He says the Michigan Supreme Court has recognized the doctrine that a lot of states have called the “public duty doctrine.” It essentially means that police owe a duty to the public in general to do their job and not to any one specific individual.
As a result, Waldman says one person can’t sue if they’re harmed unless they have what the courts have called a “special relationship” with the police officer.
“The reason for the doctrine is that we don’t want to have everyone who’s the victim of a crime, potentially filing a lawsuit and saying, ‘Hey, police, if you would do a better job at fighting crime, I wouldn’t have been stabbed,'” says Waldman.
Lawyers for the victim’s family argue there was a special relationship in this case since the police officers were face-to-face with this drunk driver and even allowed him to get back on the road. But according to Waldman, the courts said the special relationship needs to be with the victim of the crime, not the person who committed the crime.
Watch the report above to learn more.