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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Robbins v. City of Wichita et al., Appeal No. 96,970
December 14, 2007

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.

RE: Appeal No. 96,970: Robbins v. City of Wichita et al.

Concluding that the plaintiff failed to show any reckless disregard by Wichita police officers who pursued a drunken, ax-wielding, fleeing offender, the Supreme Court today upheld a Sedgwick County District Court decision granting summary judgment in favor of the city and the officers over a resulting car wreck in which a woman and the fleeing offender were killed.

In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Eric S. Rosen, the court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Gabriel Robbins, husband of Amy Robbins, who was killed when the car she was driving collided with a pickup truck being driven by Jeffrey Drechsler, who also was killed in the wreck.

Police began pursuing Drechsler after responding to a domestic violence call at his Wichita residence the night of October 5, 2004. Drechsler's stepdaughter, Sierra Roach, called 911 after Drechsler used an ax to break through a door she and her mother had locked during a domestic altercation which followed an evening of drinking by Drechsler.

Drechsler drove away in his truck just as officers arrived and attempted to elude them after they activated their red lights and siren. The resulting two-minute chase ended at the intersection of Rock Road and Pawnee in Wichita when Drechsler broadsided the car driven by Amy Robbins. Amy's husband was in the car behind Amy's and observed the accident.

Robbins filed a wrongful death action against the city, the chief of police, and the officers involved in the chase, alleging the officers and the city were negligent in the pursuit.

Justice Rosen said in the court's decision that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding that the officers had a conscious and unjustifiable disregard of the danger the pursuit caused for other motorists.

"Here, the officers were confronted with a drunken, violent, ax-wielding, fleeing offender whose very presence put whomever he encountered at serious risk of bodily injury," Justice Rosen wrote. "Clearly, the pursuit of Drechsler was justified and the officers were operating their vehicles in compliance" with Kansas law. "To find otherwise would be implementing the use of judicial hindsight to the many split-second decisions that are made by law enforcement officers under the stress of protecting the lives and safety of the public and themselves."

Today's decision clarifies that Kansas law requiring drivers of emergency vehicles to "drive with due regard for the safety of all persons" includes the decision on whether to initiate the pursuit in the first place, as well as the act of driving in and of itself. The Court ruled that the Wichita decision to pursue Drechsler met that standard.

Although drivers of emergency vehicles are given privileges by state statute, Kansas law allows plaintiffs to recover damages if they can prove that the injuries resulted from a "reckless disregard" of the safety of others, the court ruled.