may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Lillian Helena Kari,
City of Maplewood, et al.,
Filed October 14, 1997
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C2959217
Patrick K. Horan, Meshbesher & Spence, Ltd., 8360 City Centre Drive, Suite 100, Woodbury, MN 55125 (for appellant)
Pierre N. Regnier, Jardine, Logan & O'Brien, P.L.L.P., 2100 Piper Jaffray Plaza, 444 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Foley, Judge.[*]
Lillian H. Kari appeals from a judgment dismissing her negligence claims against respondents City of Maplewood and Paul E. Everson, arguing the district court erred in ruling that the doctrine of official immunity applies to Everson. We affirm.
The existence of a qualified immunity is a question of law. Elwood v. County of Rice, 423 N.W.2d 671, 675 (Minn. 1988). This court reviews questions of law de novo. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
The doctrine of official immunity protects from personal liability a public official charged by the law with duties that call for the exercise of judgment. Elwood, 423 N.W.2d at 677. The purpose of the doctrine is to protect "public officials from the fear of personal liability that might deter independent action and impair effective performance of their duties." Id. at 678.
To have official immunity (1) the challenged acts must have occurred in the exercise of the official's discretion, and (2) the official must not have committed a willful or malicious wrong. Id. at 677. Malice
"means nothing more than the intentional doing of a wrongful act without legal justification or excuse, or, otherwise stated, the willful violation of a known right."
Rico v. State, 472 N.W.2d 100, 107 (Minn. 1991) (quoting Carnes v. St. Paul Union Stockyards Co., 164 Minn. 457, 462, 205 N.W. 630, 631 (1925)). To determine whether an official has committed a malicious wrong, the fact-finder considers whether the official intentionally committed an act that he or she had reason to believe is prohibited. Id. at 107-08.
Kari argues Everson willfully disregarded her rights as a pedestrian in a crosswalk and is not, therefore, entitled to official immunity. By statute, emergency vehicles may ignore traffic signals, and parking and one-way restrictions. Minn. Stat. § 169.03, subds. 2-4 (1996). Kari argues that because this section does not include an exemption from the law requiring vehicles to stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, Everson had no reason to believe he was entitled to proceed. See Minn. Stat. § 169.21, subd. 2(a) (1996) (requiring drivers to yield right-of-way to pedestrians). We disagree.
The statutory list of traffic law exemptions for emergency vehicles is not exclusive. We have held that emergency vehicles are allowed to exceed the speed limit in responding to an emergency despite the absence of that exemption in section 169.03. See, e.g., Nisbet v. Hennepin County, 548 N.W.2d 314 (Minn. App. 1996) (extending official immunity to driver of ambulance that exceeded speed limit); see also Pletan v. Gaines, 494 N.W.2d 38, 40-41 (Minn. 1992) (extending official immunity to driver of police vehicle engaged in high-speed pursuit).
In Nisbet, we concluded that a
county ambulance driver who is driving under emergency circumstances within the scope of his or her official duties is protected by official immunity, provided that his or her conduct is not willful or malicious.
Nisbet, 548 N.W.2d at 319. Drivers of emergency vehicles
must make split second decisions about the safest and most efficient way to get to the scene of an emergency. These decisions involve consideration of factors such as road and traffic conditions, the urgency of responding quickly to a particular call and the nature of the proposed extraordinary conduct * * *. Whenever an emergency vehicle disregards the usual rules of traffic, there is an increased risk that someone may get injured. Nonetheless, we allow emergency vehicles to do so because it is thought that more good than harm will be done if they are allowed to take the necessary steps to get around heavy traffic quickly.
Id. at 317. Kari has not established a basis for distinguishing Everson's conduct from that of the ambulance driver in Nisbet or for denying official immunity to Everson.
In support of her assertion that Everson acted in willful violation of her rights, Kari cites Everson's responses to two questions during his deposition.
Q All right. Well, let me ask you this, did you think you had the right of way to proceed through the accident site?
* * * *
Q Let me see if I can ask it a little different. Were you thinking you did not have the right of way or were you not thinking about that issue?
A I was not thinking about that issue.
Kari argues that these responses established that Everson (a) knew he did not have the right of way or (b) did not even think about whether he had the right of way and, therefore, he willfully disregarded Kari's rights as a pedestrian. But, the record shows that Everson was responding to an emergency at the time of the accident. Whether or not he was thinking about laws intended to protect pedestrians at the time of the accident is inconsequential. Kari has not established a basis for denying official immunity to Everson.
[ ]* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.