Being negligent does not constitute reckless disregard under MTCA


In 1997, Officer Michael Maldonado, a deputy sheriff with the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department, was driving his patrol car to the service shop for regular maintenance. He was accompanied by deputy Wes Snyder. Driving from the west on Court Street, Maldonado approached the intersection of Court and Clinton Streets in Raymond, Mississippi. The intersection had stop signs only for vehicles on Court Street crossing Clinton Street. Maldonado stated that he was aware that this was a very dangerous intersection.

Maldonado came to a complete stop upon reaching the intersection. He looked to his right and then to his left for oncoming traffic; seeing none, he proceeded through the intersection. A collision occurred as Tommy Kelly traveled through the intersection heading north on Clinton Street and Maldonado entered traveling east on Court Street. Maldonado did not see Kelly’s vehicle until immediately prior to impact because of a water tower on Maldonado’s right that partially blocked his view of any traffic approaching from the south.

Kelly testified that the distance between the water tower and the intersection is approximately fifty (50) yards. There is no indication in the record or testimony that Kelly was speeding at the time of the accident. Hinds County Circuit Court found Michael Maldonado and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors liable to Tommy Kelly for $23,700 for personal injuries. MSC reversed.


Since reckless disregard is not defined by statute, Maldonado directs this Court’s attention to the various sources we have used in the past to define recklessness.

Reckless disregard of the rights of others’ is defined as used in automobile guest law, means the voluntary doing by motorist of an improper or wrongful act, or with knowledge of existing conditions, the voluntary refraining from doing a proper or prudent act when such an act or failure to act evinces an entire abandonment of any care, and heedless indifference to results which may follow and the reckless taking of chance of accident happening without intent that any occur (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 1270 (6th ed. 1991).

Additionally, this issue was also revisited in Maye, where we cited a definition of recklessness given by the Fifth Circuit:

The terms ‘willful,’ ‘wanton,’ and ‘reckless’ have been applied to that degree of fault which lies between intent to do wrong, and the mere reasonable risk of harm involved in ordinary negligence. These terms apply to conduct which is still merely negligent, rather than actually intended to do harm, but which is so far from a proper state of mind that it is treated in many respects as if harm was intended. The usual meaning assigned to terms is that the actor has intentionally done an act of unreasonable character in reckless disregard of the risk known to him, or so obvious that he must be taken to have been aware of it, and so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow. It usually is accompanied by a conscious indifference to consequences, amounting almost to a willingness that harm should follow.

In Maye, an officer was backing his vehicle up an incline, which was also the entrance of a parking lot. The officer collided with a vehicle which had turned off the road onto the incline. The officer testified that he could not see the road from the parking lot because the jail sat below the level of the road. He checked his rear view mirrors before backing up the incline. We held that the officer showed a conscious disregard for the safety of others when he backed up the incline entrance to the parking lot knowing he could not be sure the area was clear.

In Turner, this Court found an officer’s alleged actions to constitute reckless disregard when an officer, who had pulled over a visibly intoxicated person, allowed the driver to continue driving. The intoxicated driver later was involved in a traffic accident.

In Perry, an officer driving his police vehicle collided with a car while going to meet fellow officers for dinner. The officer testified he would customarily drive without knowing how fast he was going and was speeding at the time the accident occurred. We found that the officer acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others because he was speeding without purpose and failed to use any lights or sirens.

The facts of Maye, Turner, and Perry are distinguishable from the case at hand. In Maye, the officer failed to simply turn around and look behind him. Furthermore, the officer backed up an incline knowing that any traffic turning into the parking lot would not be able to see him in time to stop. Likewise, in Turner, the officer pulled over the drunk driver because he had observed him driving in an erratic fashion. The officer then allowed the driver, who he knew to be intoxicated and incapable of driving in a prudent and safe manner, to get back in his car and drive away. In Perry, the officer was driving at an excessive rate of speed without light or sirens so he would not be late for dinner with his fellow officers. The common denominator in these cases is that the conduct involved evinced not only some appreciation of the unreasonable risk involved, but also a deliberate disregard of that risk and the high probability of harm involved.

The present case, however, is unlike Maye, Turner, or Perry. Officer Maldonado was driving his patrol car when he came to a two-way stop. Officer Maldonado stopped, looked both ways, saw nothing, proceeded into the intersection, and collided with Kelly. There is no indication that Maldonado acted with deliberate disregard to the consequences of attempting to cross the intersection. To the contrary, there is every indication that Maldonado was aware of the nature of the intersection and took specific steps to avoid the collision.

Both parties agree that this was an extremely dangerous intersection because a water tower partially blocked Officer Maldonado’s view of traffic approaching from the south. Although Officer Maldonado may have been negligent, his actions do not rise to the level of reckless disregard. Wantonness is a failure or refusal to exercise any care, while negligence is a failure to exercise due care. In the present situation, Officer Maldonado exercised due care and obeyed the traffic laws. Simply put, Officer Maldonado did what any ordinary person in his situation would have done. He stopped, looked, and then proceeded. The only other alternative he had was for him to put his car in park, exit the vehicle, walk out into the intersection, look both ways, return to his vehicle, and simply hope that no other car came along during the time it took him to get back in his car and proceed.

The trial court erred as a matter of law in finding Officer Maldonado acted with reckless disregard for the safety and well being of Tommy Kelly. Maldonado approached a dangerous intersection, stopped, looked, and then proceeded. This conduct simply does not rise to the level of reckless disregard under the analysis set forth in Maye, Turner, and Perry. Accordingly, Maldonado and Hinds County are entitled to immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act pursuant to § 11-46-9(1)(c). The judgment of the Hinds County Circuit Court is reversed, and judgment is rendered here in favor of Michael Maldonado and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors that Tommy Kelly take nothing in this action and that his complaint and this action are finally dismissed with prejudice.