Officer found negligent in fatal car accident But city won't have to pay more than $40,000 because he acted in emergency

June 22, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury yesterday found a city police officer responsible for an accident that killed an 18-year-old woman in the early hours of New Year's Day 1995.

The jury found Officer Keith Devoe negligent in the accident, but determined that he was acting in an emergency capacity when his cruiser broadsided a car driven by Valerie Lynette Taylor at Caroline and Orleans streets in East Baltimore.

That determination means that, under state law, the city would not have to pay more than $40,000 -- the limit on a municipality's liability in such a case when an officer is acting in an emergency -- to Taylor's family, which has brought suit for $5 million, said Assistant City Solicitor John W. Trotz.

But attorney Marvin Ellin, who represents the family, said he still plans to ask the jury Monday for the $5 million to compensate the Taylors' loss -- and, if successful, will then ask the Court of Special Appeals to let a large damage award stand on the grounds that the jury was not given a proper definition of a police emergency.

"We intend to make this a test case," Ellin said.

Devoe was speeding toward a call for a police wagon in the 900 block of Valley St. when he hit Taylor's car about 2: 30 a.m. Jan. 1, 1995. Taylor and her 12-year-old sister, who was injured in the collision, were on their way home from a midnight church service.

In an opening statement, Trotz told the jury that on New Year's Eve, Devoe's supervisor had directed all officers in his sector "to respond to everyone's call as an emergency call." But the commanding officer that morning, Richard Waybright, testified that he had not radioed the police wagon call in as an emergency.

A Police Department review found Devoe, then 21, at fault.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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