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CHP Was Not Immune From Wrongful Death Lawsuit Caused By On-Duty CHP Officer
In the early morning of October 14, 2019, Danuka Silva was riding with another passenger in the back of a rideshare vehicle driven by Uber. While on the freeway, the driver abruptly stopped the vehicle and demanded the two passengers exit, refusing to pull to the shoulder first. As the passengers attempted to cross the freeway to safety, Sergeant Richard Langford’s patrol car struck and killed Danuka while Langford was responding to an emergency call concerning an altercation on the freeway.
On February 5, 2020, Marakkalage and Shirin Silva filed a complaint alleging causes of action for negligence and wrongful death, as well as survival cause of action claims for negligence and wrongful death. They alleged Langford violated Vehicle Code Section 22350 for which California Highway Patrol (CHP) was liable as Langford’s employer. At the time of the collision, Langford was driving at an excessive speed without activating his patrol car’s lights and sirens.
Langford and CHP each demurred to the first amended complaint, arguing the complaint was barred by investigative immunity conferred under Government Code Section 821.6. This law provides, “A public employee is not liable for injury caused by his instituting or prosecuting any judicial or administrative proceeding within the scope of his employment, even if he acts maliciously and without probable cause.” The trial court granted both demurrers and this appeal followed.
Because Langford was immune from suit under Vehicle Code Section 17004, the California Court of Appeal declined to consider whether he was immune under 821.6. However, the Court did reason that even if Langford was immune from suit under Section 821.6 (in addition to his immunity under Vehicle Code Section 17004), it does not follow that CHP was immune.
The Court first noted that Government Code Section 821.6 immunity, like Vehicle Code Section 17004 immunity, expressly applies only to a “public employee.” The court agreed with Silvas’s argument that CHP’s immunity does not necessarily flow from any investigative immunity Langford may have under Section 821.6 because of the language in Government Code Section 815.2(b). That law limits the public entity’s immunity if “otherwise provided by statute.” In this case, Vehicle Code Section 17001 provides a separate statutory basis for CHP liability: “A public entity is liable for death or injury to person or property proximately caused by a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of any motor vehicle by an employee of the public entity acting within the scope of his employment.” Therefore, because the first amended complaint specifically alleged CHP was liable under Vehicle Code Section 17001, it was therefore CHP’s burden to establish its affirmative defense of governmental immunity, which it failed to do.
Silva v. Langford, 79 Cal.App.5th 710 (2022).