Governor Ned Lamont on Thursday vetoed a bill passed in response to a Connecticut Supreme Court case that said a Shelton police officer’s decision to pursue a getaway vehicle was entitled to government immunity.
In his first veto of 2022, Lamont sided with municipalities who feared that Senate Bill 204, which limited immunity in negligence cases involving a police cruiser or other municipal vehicles, would either too broad, exposing taxpayers to increased liability and creating a chilling effect on emergency responders. .
“I respect that it is a policy decision within the jurisdiction and authority of the Legislature to overrule the Supreme Court’s recent statutory interpretation,” Lamont wrote. “However, as written, SB 204 appears broader: it completely eliminates the doctrine of governmental immunity for a municipality operating a city-owned vehicle.”
The bill was drafted in response to the 2020 court ruling in Borelli versus Renaldia complaint filed by the family of a 15-year-old passenger in a Mustang that crashed and overturned after a brief chase by a police officer in 2012.
Municipal employees do not have the discretion to ignore motor vehicle laws, and municipalities can be held liable for their negligence. Emergency responders are allowed to ignore certain traffic rules, but still have a duty to drive “with due regard to the safety of all persons and property”.
One issue in Borrelli was whether state law required officers to weigh the dangerousness of a pursuit before deciding whether to prosecute, rather than deciding whether to end a pursuit based on conditions. The law, the court found, provided greater leeway for discretionary decisions made by emergency responders.
Proponents of the bill, including the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, said it would align municipal liability standards in motor vehicle accidents with state liability. Lawyers said municipal governments currently enjoy greater immunity than the state.
“There is no valid reason or justification for not reflecting this exception for motor vehicles owned and operated by the municipality,” trial attorneys said in open court.
Lamont acknowledged the difference of opinion on what the bill would do, but said he was concerned the measure had gone too far.
“This is an important and complex area of law,” Lamont said. “Before making any changes to this area of the law, I suggest that lawmakers meet with city officials and other interested parties to discuss the purpose and impact of this legislation in more detail.”
The bill passed 140 to 1 in the House and 32 to 0 in the Senate, but the legislature generally does not attempt to override it when governors raise issues of potential defaults and essentially invite the legislature to try again.
As of Thursday night, the governor had signed 125 bills into law and vetoed one.