Police Officers Protected Against Negligence Suit

In a recent decision, Ariel v. Town of Kingston (#06-P-825) (June 6, 2007), the Appeals Court affirmed that Massachusetts police officers and their public employers are protected from negligence lawsuits. The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act states that Massachusetts public entities cannot be sued for an alleged "failure to provide adequate police protection, prevent the commission of crimes . . . or enforce any law.” (See General Laws Chapter 258). In this case, the victim of a car crash sued the Town of Kingston, claiming that the negligent direction of traffic by two police officers caused another car to collide with her. The Appeals Court disagreed. “[The] police officers’ direction of traffic on a public way constitutes a form of providing police protection to the public for the risks involved in motor vehicle traffic.” These actions did not qualify as an affirmative promise of police protection. The court’s decision affirms a general understanding of the scope of immunity provided by the MTCA. Because the town and officers were immune from suit under the above language, the Court also found that other provisions of the MTCA did not provide basis for a different claim of negligence.

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