Can You Sue the County When A County Employee Ask For Your Help And You Get Hurt?

November 13, 2015 10:03 pm Published by

Walker v. County of Los Angeles, 192 Cal. App. 3d 1393, 238 Cal. Rptr. 146 (1987)

Does a public employee create a “special relationship” with a private citizen by asking that citizen to perform a public function which involves a foreseeable risk of injury?

Yes

When a public entity employee asks a private citizen to help and the public employee screws up an injures you, is the public entity responsible ?

Yes

Can I Sue the County, or City, or State, or Agency, if i get hurt when an employee working for the agency asks me to help with her job and I get hurt?

Yes

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

This is a dog bite case with a different twist. Not “man bites dog” but “dog bites dog catcher,” or more accurately, a dog catcher’s helper.

With one important exception, the essential outline of the story is undisputed. On July 21, 1982, appellant Clayton Walker’s mother-in-law called County Animal Control. She reported there were two dogs roaming in the Tujunga area that had been left or abandoned by their owners. The county dispatched Gail Miley,.

The county of Los Angeles Animal Control was dispatched to catch two stray dogs. A uniformed animal control officer was dispatched to round up the animals. She managed to capture one of the dogs and put it in her truck. But she couldn’t catch the second. She said she wold return with a trap to in attempt to capture the second one. The plaintiff’s inlaw suggested to the officer that Plaintiff might be able to help The office asked Plaintiff Walker asked if he would capture the second dog. Walker captured the second dog with a rope. When he came down the hill the dog bit his thumb off. The trial court kicked the case out on t he grounds that The County of Los Angeles is immune under Government Code sections 820.2, 820.8 and 815.2″ and the further ground “there was no special relationship of reliance on Officer Miley which would give rise to a cause of action.

COURTS RULING

The court held that a special relationship is created by the public employee’s request. The public employee owes a duty of due care toward the private citizen and the public entity is liable to the private citizen for injuries caused by its employee’s negligence.
A governmental officer who requests assistance of a private citizen in the performance of a dangerous task which is part of the officer’s official duties and which is for the benefit of the general public has a duty of due care toward that private citizen.
In California this concern is addressed by requiring a “special relationship” between the public employee and a specific private citizen before a duty is created. A “special relationship” exists if and only if an injured person demonstrates the public officer assumed a duty toward the plaintiff greater than the duty owed to another member of the public.
The court reasoned that the public is well served by encouraging private citizens to comply with requests from public employees that they help out when needed. That private citizens would be discouraged when private citizens are told they volunteered their assistance at their own risk. On the other hand by imposing a duty on public employees to minimize the risk of harm when they ask some private citizen to perform part or all of their own duties, we increase the supply of citizens willing to give necessary assistance.
The county argued the plaintiff volunteered, but the county did not contend or show evidence that plaintiff leaped out from a crowd yelling, “Please, please let me go after that dog.” Instead what happened was that Officer Miley drove over to Plaintiff’s house and specifically requested whether he would be willing to help out by capturing the stray animal this trained professional animal control officer had been unable to bring under control. On the other hand, this is a case where the public employee personally asked an individual private citizen to discharge a public function ordinarily entrusted to that employee. The court found that enough to create a a “special relationship.” From this special relationship flows a duty to minimize any foreseeable risk of harm to the private citizen which may be involved in doing what the public employee has asked him to do.
In this case, Officer Miley’s act was asking Walker to capture the wild dog. She knew or should have known there was an unreasonable risk of causing physical harm” to Walker. Officer Miley was under a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the risk from taking effect and causing harm to Plaintiff.
The court held that the public employee’s request for assistance creates a duty of care toward the private citizen whose help is enlisted. This duty of due care does not depend upon any finding that the private citizen has become some sort of temporary public employee.

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This post was written by Orange Dog Bite Attorney

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