Recent Court Decisions: Kneipp v. Tedder

New Theory Adopted for Police Liability for Failure to Protect

Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199 (3rd Cir. 1996).

Plaintiff and her husband were stopped by the police as they staggered home one night in the extreme cold. The police allowed the husband to proceed to the home because there were unattended children at home, but detained the plaintiff-wife briefly and then left her alone. She was so intoxicated she could barely stand. She was only a block from her home but passed out in the cold and suffered extreme brain damage before she was found.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals applied a new theory of "state-created danger" for liability under the federal civil rights act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983. Even though there was no special relationship between the police and the plaintiff that would lead to negligence liability under state law, the "state-created danger" theory, the court said, does not require a finding of a special relationship between the plaintiff and defendant.

The facts alleged by the plaintiff would, if proven, survive a summary judgment motion under the state-created danger theory because: (1) they established that the harm in leaving the plaintiff in the cold by herself was foreseeable; (2) the officers exhibited willful disregard for the plaintiff s safety; (3) there was at least some relationship with the plaintiff by virtue of stopping her briefly and detaining her for a short time on the street, and (4) the police put her in a more vulnerable position by exercising their authority, however briefly.

In short, they left her in a more vulnerable position than they found her in; she would have probably made it home with her husband if the police had not separated her from her husband and then left her alone.

Note: As with all the cases discussed on the web pages of LELP, do not assume the law on this subject is the same in your jurisdiction; check with your legal advisor to determine the law in your own jurisdiction and how it would apply in a particular case.

Copyright (c) 1996 Law Enforcement Legal Publications

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