Judge: Louisville Liable for Off-Duty Crashes

I would think that the city vehicle would be covered by the city. How ridiculous would it be if the officers had to pay for auto insurance on the city cars that they drive to and from work…

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —

Louisville tax dollars may be at greater risk, thanks to a judge’s ruling in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The ruling as it stands means the city can be sued if a police officer is involved in an accident in a cruiser to or from work. Because the city is self-insured, any payments would come from tax dollars.

In October 2006, Donnie Puente was in an emergency lane on the Watterson Expressway putting gasoline into a friend’s car.

Puente and his friends called police for help, but before help arrived, off duty officer Kenton Measle, who was speeding, tried to pass a car and hit and killed Puente.

“Just because they got a badge don’t mean they should speed through the streets. I mean, I know accidents happen, but they’re not above the law,” said Dee Henderson, Puente’s friend.

Puente’s family sued and according to a recent ruling from judge Mary Shaw, not only is Measle liable for the accident, so is the city of Louisville.

Shaw said because officers are required to give assistance when they’re going to and from work in their take home police cars, the city benefits from it.

Therefore, the officers are on duty and the city is liable for accidents.

“We agree with her ruling and that those officers are out there providing a service to the community,” said Fraternal Order of Police president John McGuire.

McGuire said his organization contended all along that the take home vehicle program provides a benefit to the community.

It’s an argument the FOP has used in an ongoing dispute over officers paying for take home cars.

The judge’s ruling also raises the question of officer pay when they’re off the clock.

“When officers do take action while they’re off duty, that yes, they should be compensated for that,” said McGuire.

Meanwhile, the attorney representing Puente’s family said the city’s liability in the pending wrongful death lawsuit could exceed $2 million.

“It was just a family. We all worked together, hung out together, lived together,” said Henderson.

A spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office expressed disappointment about Shaw’s ruling.

He said a decision about whether or not to appeal it will likely come next week.

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