'The King Can Do No Wrong': Explaining Sovereign Immunity - WSET.com - ABC13

'The King Can Do No Wrong': Explaining Sovereign Immunity

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Roanoke, VA - A Roanoke Circuit Court judge has granted a sovereign immunity plea for a Roanoke City Police Officer being sued for $5 million.

Helen Cunningham is suing the officer and is claiming he acted with gross negligence when he hit her car and sent her flying back in 2008.

"The last six years have been the hardest of my life” said Cunningham.

She was hit hard by a Roanoke City Police Officer responding to an emergency.  Helen Cunningham is still suffering six years after this collision left her physically and mentally disabled.

She's suing the officer for $5 million. Claiming he acted with complete negligence, not using his lights, sirens, or even slowing down through the intersection where she was hit.

"Every time you see the video, people jump when you see the crash” said Verbena Askew, Cunningham's Attorney.

Askew is now forced to prove gross negligence.  The officer is arguing sovereign immunity, a law protecting him in the line of duty.

"I think again, the court was incorrect in ruling that sovereign immunity applied” said Askew.

“The King can do no wrong,” was the initial definition of sovereign immunity, protecting the pocket book of the crown and the king's court from getting in any trouble.

"It wants to reduce the fear or anxiety of public officials carrying out their duty” said Ross Sanzone, a Lynchburg defense attorney.

Sanzone said the law's purpose now in serving the state hundreds of years after its inception is quite different.

"If a lifesaving crew is worried they're going to injure a passenger, do you really want them sitting there on the side of the road debating whether or not we should act, or are we going to be sued?" said Sanzone.

As for Cunningham, sovereign immunity she feels, should be a thing of the past.

"We're no longer in the Wild Wild West and my take on that is that that law more than likely, was written in the thought that a police department would hire responsible people” she said.

A jury will ultimately decide if the Roanoke Police officer was acting responsibly in response to that call.  A trial date has not yet been set.

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