Roanoke, VA - Sovereign immunity offers protection of government employees, against civil lawsuits and it's up in the air as to whether it will protect one Roanoke City Police Officer. ABC 13 sat down with Helen Cunningham, a woman suing a Roanoke Police Officer for $5 Million. In 2008, an officer responding to an emergency call, T-boned her car. She says since, she's never been the same. Dashcam video from March 2008 shows a Roanoke Police Officer, running a stop sign, and T-boning a Ford minivan. That video shows the moments involved now in a $5 Million lawsuit, against the officer, by Cunningham. "The last six years have been the hardest of my life" said Cunningham. Cunningham was driving the minivan that was hit. She said as a result of the wreck, she's received brain trauma, has trouble speaking, chronic pain, and memory loss. She has claimed the officer was grossly negligent when he came through the intersection. "If they're giving him good merit then that in itself appears to be negligent because he has good standing and I can hardly stand" she said. The officer involved in the wreck, according to a police spokesman, is in "good standing" with the department. The defense in the case is arguing sovereign immunity; a law that protects to an extent, any government employee from lawsuits, whether it be a city sanctioned demo of the wrong house, a fire truck taking out your mailbox, or a police vehicle hitting another car. According to testimony by the officer, he said "As I came up to intersections or heavy traffic, I would activate my emergency equipment, stop and slow down as needed." In the Roanoke Police Department policy on responding to emergency calls, there are specific guidelines. For instance, "Any driver of any police vehicle responding to an emergency call or involved in a vehicle pursuit shall use the blue light and siren for the purpose of gaining safe passage." But in the dashcam video, no sirens can be heard and an "L", seen in portions of the video, according to a defense lawyer, signifies use of the vehicle's blue lights. At the time of the collision no "L" can be seen in the video. "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" said Cunningham. When the officer's attorney was asked if the officer should have had his lights on at the time he came through the intersection, he said "he used his discretion and training in that moment." The case is pending in Roanoke Circuit Court; the defense is attempting to have the case thrown out based on sovereign immunity.
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