In a recent Texas wrongful death case, the plaintiffs claimed that at about 3:30 in the morning, a police officer put the decedent in the back of a patrol car. She wasn’t seatbelted in, or else she wasn’t properly seatbelted. The defendant’s car hit the patrol car in an intersection after running a red light. As a result, the decedent was thrown from the patrol car and suffered serious and ultimately fatal injuries.
The defendant admitted to officers she’d just left a bar nearby. She was taken to a hospital and determined to be drunk. The decedent’s family filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging the officer acted within the course and scope of her employment with the city. According to the plaintiffs, the officer was driving a city-owned car, negligently failed to use a seatbelt on the decedent, which allowed her to be thrown out of the patrol car, and failed to keep a lookout. The lawsuit also alleged the officer failed to slow, failed to hit the brakes appropriately, failed to take evasive action, handcuffed the decedent when she wasn’t under arrest, didn’t follow proper procedures related to seatbelts, and improperly provided police protection. The plaintiffs argued that the officer’s negligence was the legal cause of the decedent’s death, and the City was vicariously liable.
The plaintiffs claimed that the city had waived governmental immunity for a death caused by the use of tangible personal property like handcuffs and damages resulting from governmental functions like police protection. The City argued there was no subject matter jurisdiction. It argued that the officer had received a call about a suspected drunk driver and found the decedent sitting next to her car so drunk she couldn’t stand up. The officer was taking her to the Sobering Center. The drunk driver later pled guilty to intoxication manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The city argued that it was undisputed the drunk driver caused the accident, so the city hadn’t waived its Texas Tort Claims Act immunity based on the officer’s use of the car.