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"Emergency" not required to invoke official immunity

Official immunity protects public officials from being sued for alleged acts of negligence committed during discretionary (rather than ministerial/clerical) acts performed in the course of their official duties. In Barron v. Beger, a state highway trooper asserted official immunity after she was sued for negligence for crashing into a car during the chase of another car. The chase occurred at night on a narrow, two-laned, and hilly road, and the trooper chose not to activate her emergency sirens or lights. The injured plaintiff argued that because the chase was not an emergency, she could not have been acting with “discretion,” and therefore official immunity should not apply. The Missouri Supreme Court explained that while it is true that emergencies require discretionary action, that does not mean that emergencies are the only circumstances in which a public official acts in a discretionary manner. Here, the state trooper exercised her discretion to determine the speed of the chase and whether to activate her lights and sirens. Given that there was “room for variation” in these choices, her actions were not ministerial and thus she was entitled to official immunity.

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