Driver fights "Sovereign Immunity" after collision with state prison van
It's a legal doctrine that dates back to the British Monarchy: "The King can do no wrong." Under Sovereign Immunity the "King" and the state are immune from being sued. A Jefferson County driver who had a major collision with a with a state prison van says it's time to change the outdated law.
Kathy Chesser's SUV was a total loss in the crash. It happened nearly a year ago as Chesser headed out to dinner in downtown Birmingham. Chesser is firm on this point, "I had four green lights."
After the impact she recalls her vehicle spinning out of control. "I was dizzy, had a lot of pain, could not breath and barely talk," explained Chesser. She still suffers from a lot of pain. Chesser has mounting medical bills and says the ordeal has been a huge financial burden.
Later she found out the unsupervised driver of the prison van was serving time for manslaughter. "I want to know who gave her the keys?" asks Chesser.
Inmate Shonta Cohill's statement to Birmingham Police claims it was Chesser who turned in front of her. But a court will not get to decide liability because under Alabama Law inmate drivers are exempt from lawsuits.
"There's no reason they (inmates driving) shouldn't be treated like any other agent of the state," says retired Judge John Carroll. He believes the law should be changed for cases where there is a clear instance of negligence.
Chesser's only option now is try to find a state employee who did something wrong. "Is this a case where an employee shouldn't have given the inmate the keys? Was there something radically wrong with the van?" questions Judge Carroll who is not connected to the case.
Attorney Richard Jaffe says immunity has its place protecting government. "If you're suing them all the time. They're always looking over their shoulder. They're in court all the time. The government can't function," says Jaffe. However he does believe there ought to be some exceptions.
Chesser hopes her story brings out others forward facing similar situations and prompts change. "It's just not fair; someone has to be responsible."
Other officials like District Attorneys can get "qualified" immunity, but it is an extremely high hurdle to get over.
In some instances the State Board of Adjustments can award money in vehicle accidents. Experts recommend you carry uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage which is not very expensive to make sure you are fully covered.