The Third Circuit Court of Appeal has rejected a summary judgement in favor of Lafayette Consolidated Government, ruling that a Lafayette police officer was evidently duty-bound to attempt to apprehend a hit-and-run driver moments after the accident.
The lawsuit brought by plaintiff Lisa Alfano was heard in Lafayette by Judge John Trahan. The suit stems from an August 2007 wreck on Pinhook road in which the car driven by Alfano was rear-ended by a white pickup. According to the suit, the pickup driver fled just as Officer Covey Menard arrived on the scene. Alfano contends that the truck was still within view, stopped a red light down the street, when she and a passenger pointed out the hit-and-run driver to Menard and urged him to go after the driver. Menard, however, declined to give chase, saying he “could not see any white truck in sight. Therefore, he determined apprehension of the hit-and-run driver at that time was unlikely, and chose instead to focus on the accident scene.”
Alfano filed suit seeking unspecified damages alleging a breach of duty by the officer. LCG countered at trial, arguing that Menard acted reasonably. Trahan agreed and granted LCG a summary judgement throwing out the suit.
But the appeals court disagreed, citing a state law — Revised Statue 32:398(D) — that requires law enforcement to investigate automobile accidents; the Third Circuit panel also cited Lafayette Police Department General Order 304.31, which stipulates that “when a driver involved in an accident has left the scene, the investigating officer shall attempt to apprehend said driver and take the appropriate enforcement action(s). If apprehension is not possible, the officer shall forward the pertinent information to the Hit-&-Run Officer along with all paperwork.”
Writing for the three-judge panel that heard the appeal from Alfano, Judge Sylvia R. Cooks concludes that “there are clear issues of material fact as to whether Officer Menard fulfilled his duties under both La.R.S. 32:398(D) and General Order 304.3, which until they are resolved cannot entitle LCG to governmental immunity... Those issues of fact must be decided at a trial on the merits. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Read the full Third Circuit opinion here