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Canico v. Hurtado

June 18, 1996

MARIA J. CANICO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ORLANDO L. HURTADO AND CITY OF NEWARK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in Justice POLLOCK's opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pollock

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

Maria J. Canico v. Orlando L. Hurtado, et al. (A-73-95)

Argued January 3, 1996 -- Decided June 18, 1996

POLLOCK, J., writing for a unanimous Court.

The issue in this case is whether a police officer who is involved in a traffic accident while responding to the report of a crime is entitled to "good faith" immunity under the state Tort Claims Act.

Maria Canico was driving south on Broad Street in Newark on October 15, 1990. She stopped at a red traffic light at Lafayette Street. She heard approaching sirens. Three fire trucks travelling west on Lafayette turned south on Broad Street. The light turned green after the last truck passed and Canico began her left turn.

At that moment, two police vehicles were proceeding south on Broad Street in response to an alarm at the Broad National Bank. Officer Orlando Hurtado was driving the lead vehicle, which was proceeding at approximately thirty miles per hour, with the siren blaring and lights flashing. The cars were in the yellow-striped lane reserved for emergency vehicles.

The emergency lane ends at the intersection of Broad and Lafayette. It becomes the left-turn lane for traffic turning east on Lafayette. As Hurtado tried to pass on the left, Canico started her left turn in front of Hurtado's car, which struck Canico's vehicle on the left rear.

Canico suffered personal injuries and property damage. She sued Hurtado and the City of Newark. The trial court held that Hurtado was entitled to "good faith" immunity under the Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A. 59:3-3). Judgment was granted for Hurtado and Newark at the end of Canico's case.

Canico appealed. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court granted the petition for certification of Hurtado and Newark.

HELD: A police officer responding to the report of a crime is entitled to immunity from liability for the negligent operation of a police vehicle if the officer acted in good faith within the meaning of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (N.J.S.A.59:3-3).

1. For the past three years, the Court has sought to ascertain the intent of the Legislature concerning immunity for the operation of police vehicles that cause accidents while responding to emergencies. The Court has previously held that absent willful misconduct, police and their municipality are absolutely immune from liability when an escaping person injures a third party. That immunity was extended to ...


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