In a recently issued ruling by New Jersey’s Appellate Division, the Court upheld an earlier ruling by a superior court judge holding that an officer did not commit “willful misconduct” under New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act when he engaged in a pursuit of a vehicle after the driver pulled away from a traffic stop. The plaintiff in the case, entitled Jackson v. County of Hudson, et al., Docket No. A-3111-22 (issued April 4, 2024) filed the lawsuit for injuries he sustained when his car was hit by the motor vehicle that was being pursued by the officer.  

On January 23, 2018, at approximately 5:00 a.m., the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department was conducting radar enforcement in Jersey City.  At that time, the officer in question observed a vehicle pass through three consecutive red lights while traveling at sixty-eight and seventy miles per hour.  The posted speed limit on the road in question, Kennedy Boulevard, is twenty-five miles per hour. The officer followed the driver and attempted to “close the gap” without turning on his patrol car’s lights or sirens.  Once he began following, the officer radioed the on-duty communications officers to inform them he was following a vehicle traveling at a high speed.  The vehicle subsequently slowed down and the officer initiated a traffic stop. After initially stopping, the driver then suddenly sped away. The officer then radioed communications officers to update them and to notify that he was going to pursue. Subsequently, the driver of the fleeing vehicle ran a red light and collided with the plaintiff’s car who was injured because of the collision.

The injured driver ultimately filed a lawsuit contending, in part, that the officer committed willful misconduct by pursuing the fleeing vehicle. Attorneys for the officer prevailed on summary judgment, as the trial court recognized that the Tort Claims Act, in particular, N.J.S.A. 59:5-2(b)(2), grants immunity to police officers for injuries resulting from pursuits. On appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial court erred in his application of N.J.S.A. 59:5-2(b)(2), and contended that a jury should resolve the question of whether the officer’s decision to initiate the pursuit and his subsequent failure to terminate the pursuit violated the Attorney General’s Vehicular Pursuit Policy (hereinafter “Guidelines”) and was thus willful misconduct. Notably, willful misconduct is an exception to the immunity conferred to an officer for injuries resulting from a pursuit. The appellate division rejected the argument.

The Guidelines state a police officer may only pursue a suspect if they have committed a first- or second-degree offense or if the officer reasonably believes the suspect poses an immediate threat to either the public or the officer.  Off. of the Att’y Gen., New Jersey Vehicular Pursuit Policy § I(A)(1) (rev. 2009). During his deposition, the officer explained his decision to pursue the fleeing driver was based, in part, on him pulling away from the initiated traffic stop.  The officer explained this was a second-degree offense of eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b), warranting police pursuit.  According to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b), any person “operating a motor vehicle . . . who knowingly flees or attempts to elude any police or law enforcement officer . . . is guilty of a crime of the second degree if the flight or attempt to elude creates a risk of death or injury to any person.”  Considering the Guidelines in conjunction with the characterization of the driver’s action as a second-degree offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b), the Court ruled that the officer’s decision was authorized and did not constitute willful misconduct. The Court thus concluded that the trial court correctly determined there were no credible facts in the record to establish that the officer engaged in willful misconduct during his pursuit of the fleeing driver.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Michael DeRose Michael DeRose

Michael P. DeRose is a shareholder at the firm and primarily focuses his practice in labor/ employment law and other aspects of civil litigation, such as contract disputes. He has litigated and tried hundreds of matters before the Superior Court of New Jersey…

Michael P. DeRose is a shareholder at the firm and primarily focuses his practice in labor/ employment law and other aspects of civil litigation, such as contract disputes. He has litigated and tried hundreds of matters before the Superior Court of New Jersey, the Office of Administrative Law and the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission on behalf of various labor unions and their members. Michael has extensive experience defending and fighting for members of law enforcement and other public employees facing adverse disciplinary action, such as termination or suspension from employment. He also frequently argues before New Jersey’s Appellate Division on behalf of his clients.

A large portion of his practice is also devoted to contract negotiations on behalf of union clients, representing such clients in grievance arbitration/ contract disputes, and otherwise advising union leaders on labor and employment matters.  Michael also has significant experience in the realm of interest arbitration on behalf of the firm’s law enforcement and firefighter unions. As a result of the firm’s robust labor and employment practice, Michael regularly appears before various state agencies, such as the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits, the State Health Benefits Commission, and NJ PERC. In addition to representing labor unions and active employees, Michael also represents retirees before the Division of Pensions in disability retirement applications, both ordinary and accidental disability retirement, in pension forfeiture actions, and in other miscellaneous pension disputes. He also counsels private business and their principals in contract and employment law, in addition to representing their interests in civil litigation. Michael has a track record of obtaining favorable outcomes for his clients and treats each everyone of them on an individual and particularized basis in accordance with their needs.

Before joining the firm in August of 2015, Michael was an associate counsel at a civil litigation firm out in Trenton, New Jersey, where he principally focused his practice around employment law and tort claims litigation. Prior to that, he served as a law clerk in the Superior Court of New Jersey for the Honorable F. Patrick McManimon, Mercer County Vicinage, from September of 2012 to August of 2013, where he attained significant experience in the realm of alternative dispute resolution having mediated well-over one-hundred cases, primarily related to commercial and residential landlord/ tenant disputes and contract/ business litigation. He earned his Juris Doctorate in 2012 after graduating from the Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. In 2007, he earned his Bachelor of the Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Administration from Kean University where he was a member of the Kean University baseball team and vice president of the Alpha Phi Sigma chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society.

Michael is admitted to the New Jersey State Bar, the United States Federal Court for the District of New Jersey, and is a member of the Mercer County Bar Association.