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Police Might Be Liable for Releasing Drunk Driver

(CN) - After a drunk-driving accident that killed two people, a local police department could be found liable for releasing the drunk driver -- and his car -- one day earlier, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.

Cornelius Copley was arrested on charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license. He was released one day later, and when he came back for his car, Circleville police released it to him.

He drove drunk again the next morning, and got into an accident that killed him and Jillian Graves. Her estate sued the police officers for negligence and reckless conduct because they released Copley and his car.

The lower courts ruled that the police were not entitled to summary judgment, as there was an issue of material fact over whether the police acted recklessly.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the officers can't rely on the public-duty rule established by the court in Sawicki v. Ottawa Hills. That rule established that unless they have a special duty to a citizen, police are not liable for breaching their duties to citizens while performing their jobs.

"Our determination that the public duty rule is inapplicable to lawsuits alleging wanton and reckless conduct against political subdivision employees preserves the public policy that justifies our adoption of the rule - maintaining the integrity of public finance and the necessity of avoiding judicial intervention into policy decisions," Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote, remanding the case for further action.

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