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$1.3M million award to W-B police officer hurt in crash overturned

Court rules jury should have been allowed to hear rules for police response in emergency.

WILKES-BARRE – The state Superior Court has overturned a $1.3 million award to a city police officer injured in a car crash while responding to a call, ruling a Luzerne County judge wrongly precluded the jury from hearing information on the rules governing police response in an emergency.

Officer Brian Horst filed suit against the estate of William Oram, alleging Oram was negligent when he struck Horst’s police cruiser as it was traveling on Old River Road in Wilkes-Barre on Jan. 21, 2004.

Horst was responding to a call to assist another police officer and was passing Oram on the left when Oram attempted to make a left turn and impacted the cruiser.

A jury awarded Horst and his wife, Joann, $1.3 million after a trial in February 2007. The insurance carrier for Oram, who died in 2005, appealed the verdict, arguing Judge Mark Ciavarella erred when he declined to instruct jurors they could consider regulations that dictate an emergency responder’s responsibility when responding to a call.

Horst had stated his emergency lights were activated, but acknowledged he did not activate his siren.

The statute that gives responders the right to disobey certain traffic laws states that right applies only when the vehicle uses audible and visual signals. But Ciavarella refused to advise jurors they could consider that statute.

In a ruling issued July 11, the Superior Court deemed Ciavarella erred given that Horst had presented testimony of supervisors who said he had followed proper emergency response procedures. It overturned the verdict and directed a new trial be held.

Neil O’Donnell, Horst’s attorney, said Tuesday he is evaluating the ruling to determine Horst’s options.

“We believe the jury got it right after a weeklong trial,” O’Donnell said. “We are committed to vigorously advancing Mr. Horst’s interests as we move forward with this case.”

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