On Thursday, January 28, 2010, the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the lower court rulings in favor of the estate of a Chillicothe woman who was killed in a head-on car crash caused by a drunk driver the day after his car was to have been impounded by area police.

Justices found the three Circleville, Ohio, police officers named in the wrongful death suit brought by the estate of the deceased woman were not immune as public employees of a political subdivision from personal liability for the injuries they caused when it is alleged they engaged in wanton or reckless conduct.

The suit alleged that the Circleville, Ohio officers failed to prevent the drunk driver from retrieving his vehicle from a police impound lot on the day after his arrest for a DUI offense, despite a state law requiring that the drunk drivers car and license plates remain impounded until after his initial court appearance on the DUI charge. One day later, while again driving intoxicated, the drunk driver caused a head-on crash on U.S. Route 23 in Ross County, in which both he and a twenty three year old woman were killed.

The Supreme Court of Ohio invalidated a common law exception from civil liability for injuries that are caused by a public employees breach of a public duty. The Court stated that a judge or a jury could find that the officers acted wantonly or recklessly, which would defeat their claim of immunity and entitle the estate to recover on its claims against them.

This is a very important victory for injured victims in Ohio where their injuries were caused completely or in part by the improper conduct of employees of political subdivisions.

The case is Estate of Graves v. Circleville, Slip Opinion No. 2010 Ohio 168.