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Court rules cop who ran red light immune from lawsuit

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Vassallo's car after the accident.
Jolene Vassallo was severely injured in an accident with a Hennepin County deputy's vehicle in Brooklyn Park on Dec. 25, 2009.
Courtesy Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Attorneys for a woman seriously injured in an auto collision with a Hennepin County Sheriff's deputy say a state Supreme Court ruling Wednesday ends their efforts to recover their client's medical expenses. 

The court reversed a lower court ruling that questioned whether the deputy driving the marked SUV that struck a car driven by Jolene Vassallo should have been granted immunity.

The crash was a tragic accident, but the court was correct in upholding the deputy and the county's immunity from liability, said Hennepin County managing attorney Dan Rogan.

"We want officers who are responding to emergencies to be thinking about what are the best options that they have," he said. "Official immunity protects those split-second decisions that officers are required to make in responding to emergencies." 

Vassallo's attorneys say they cannot make any more appeals.

The collision occurred on Christmas Day 2009. According to court documents, Deputy Jason Majeski was responding to a burglary call in Brooklyn Park. 

"As he approached an intersection near that location, Deputy Majeski observed multiple cars that had pulled over to give way to his vehicle," wrote Justice Alan Page. "He did not see any vehicles moving into or out of the intersection."

Page added that Majeski had just heard on the emergency radio that two males, possibly burglary suspects, were running from officers.

"Thinking he was close to the suspects and not wanting to alert them of his presence, Deputy Majeski turned off his siren, but kept the flashing lights on as his vehicle entered the intersection," Page wrote.

Majeski was estimated to have been traveling up to 54 miles an hour in a 50 mile per hour zone when he struck Vassallo's car, according to the opinion.

Jolene Vassallo
Jolene Vassallo
Courtesy Jolene Vassallo

Vassallo filed a personal injury lawsuit against the deputy and the county. The suit alleged that Majeski violated sheriff's office policy by turning off his siren before entering the intersection and should not be granted immunity from liability. 

However, the district court ruled Majeski used proper discretion and therefore he and his employer, Hennepin County, were protected from legal harm.

Vassallo, 38, appealed the ruling.

Her attorney, Stephanie Winter, says the Appellate Court decision reversed part of the district court's ruling and stated a jury should decide whether or not the deputy acted with proper discretion.

Hennepin County appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which ended the matter with today's decision. However, it was not unanimous. Three justices dissented.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote he agreed with the court of appeals decision to send the matter back to the district court. He said further proceedings should be held to focus on Majeski's decision to turn off his siren. Anderson wrote Hennepin County Sheriff's Office policy clearly states deputies have to use both lights and sirens in emergency situations and said he was not clear if the deputy followed an established exception to the rule. 

Winter says her client's treatment has cost more than $500,000, which was paid from Vassallo's health insurance and then by the state of Minnesota after her employer-provided health benefits expired. Vassallo will be moved to an assisted living facility in the state of New York, to be closer to her family, Winter added.