On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County.
King, Dreier and Gruccio. King, P.J.A.D.
This case presents again the issue of the liability of police officers and municipalities under Title 59 for their alleged negligence during motor vehicle pursuits of suspects. To date, panels of our court have disagreed on governmental responsibility
in these so-called "hot pursuit" cases and the issue will doubtless find resolution in the Supreme Court.
In this case plaintiffs appeal from a summary judgment on immunity grounds barring their claim for damages, under State law, arising out of a claimed high-speed police pursuit at about 8:30 p.m. on November 12, 1985 in the City of Wildwood (City). The plaintiffs allege that the officer conducted the pursuit in a careless or reckless manner. The plaintiffs also allege that the City failed to train and supervise its officers in the proper conduct of high-speed pursuits.
These are the facts adopted by the Judge from the record before him. A vehicle operated by defendant William Logan was pursued through the City by a police vehicle operated by Patrolman Robert Cramer. The Logan vehicle was traveling, on a foggy night, at a very high rate of speed without headlights. The pursuit ended at the intersection of Burke Avenue and Park Boulevard, when defendant Logan illegally entered the intersection against a stop sign at a high rate of speed and collided with a vehicle operated by plaintiffs' decedent, John Tice.
Suit was instituted against Logan, Cramer, the City of Wildwood and the Wildwood Police Department. Plaintiffs claimed that Cramer was negligent and reckless in pursuing the Logan vehicle. They also alleged that the City Police Department failed to properly supervise, instruct and train police employees in conducting high-speed pursuits.
The chase originated in the vicinity of Park Boulevard and Rio Grande Avenue, where Officer Cramer was dispatched to investigate a melee or disturbance at the Rio Grande Tavern. Upon approaching the scene he observed a red Renault, operated by Logan with three male occupants, pull out in front of him without lights and leave the area. Cramer observed an object, apparently a hammer, thrown from the Logan vehicle at the police vehicle. Cramer then pursued the Renault westbound on Rio Grande Avenue for a short distance, when Logan turned
right, northbound, on Park Boulevard with Cramer in pursuit. Logan then turned right onto Burke Avenue, traveling eastbound on a one-way westbound street. Cramer continued pursuit, also traveling the wrong way on the one-way street. Logan traveled one short block eastbound on Burke and then turned left onto Arctic Avenue, again heading northbound. Arctic Avenue at this location is a one-way street northbound. After going a short distance on Arctic Avenue, Logan turned eastbound on Davis Avenue, crossed New Jersey Avenue and Pacific Avenue and arrived at Atlantic Avenue where he turned southbound. A short distance later, Logan turned right again, traveling westbound on Burke Avenue. Burke Avenue is a westbound one-way street, the traffic on which is obligated to stop for all cross streets. Logan then crossed Pacific, New Jersey and Arctic Avenues without stopping and was in the process of crossing Park Boulevard, against the stop sign, when the accident occurred.
Logan's vehicle struck the left side of the pick-up truck driven by decedent. The accident resulted in the deaths of Tice and James Costello, a passenger in the back seat of Logan's car. William Logan, Christopher Elia, a passenger in Tice's truck, and Richard Bain, a passenger in Logan's car were injured. The other parties filed personal injury and wrongful death claims which were eventually settled and are not part of this appeal. The plaintiffs' action against Logan ended with a $400,000 consent judgment entered against him. Logan had claimed that one of his passengers forced him to flee the officer by holding a tire iron to his throat and threatening to kill him.
In deciding defendants' motion, the Law Division Judge accepted the factual scenario proffered by the plaintiffs, although the defendants disputed that the patrol vehicle was being operated at an unreasonable rate of speed. The defendants asserted that Officer Cramer was not in "hot pursuit" but was just keeping the Logan vehicle in sight. In any case, the Judge found there was "no ...