Utah SC says family can proceed with wrongful death lawsuit against deputy

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 12, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) -- The Utah Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, said the family of teenager who was injured, and later died, after being pursued by a sheriff's deputy in a car chase can proceed with their lawsuit against the law enforcement officer.

The state's high court ruled Tuesday that "law enforcement owes a duty to care to fleeing suspects."

Wayne Torrie, 16, was the subject of a police pursuit in 2010. His mother contacted police after Torrie took the family vehicle.

After taking the vehicle, during a cell phone conversation with his mother, Torrie threatened to kill himself by crashing the vehicle if police tried to apprehend him.

His mother passed this information onto police, but did not ask them to stop their pursuit, according to court documents.

Deputy Denton Harper of the Weber County Sheriff's Office pursued Torrie, who was speeding at rates nearing 100 mph.

After less than a minute into the pursuit, the teenager rolled the vehicle into a neighboring field and was ejected. He later died from his injuries.

After his death, Torrie's parents sued Harper and Weber County, alleging various theories of negligence in connection with the pursuit of their son.

A district court ruled in favor of Harper and Weber County, saying they owed no duty to the decedent.

Torrie's parents appealed.

In its 12-page opinion, the Utah Supreme Court said the parents can proceed with their wrongful death suit.

"Under the law, the Torries are entitled to an opportunity to attempt to establish that Deputy Harper did not conduct his pursuit of Wayne 'as a reasonably prudent emergency vehicle operator in like circumstances,'" Justice Ronald Nehring wrote for the court.

However, the court concluded that the parents failed to meet their burden on appeal as to their claims against the sheriff's office.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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