In a recent Texas appellate case, the plaintiff sued the City of Houston after one of its police officers hit his motorcycle. The officer was in a parked police car in 2009 when he heard a radio broadcast from another officer, stating that there was a motorcyclist who was driving recklessly and standing up on the motorcycle while speeding. The first officer radioed that he would try to help the first officer. While going to assist, the first officer saw the plaintiff’s car leave a parking lot and turn onto the road in front of him. As the officer came up to him, he changed lanes to the left lane and then changed back, coming to a stop in front of the police officer. The officer hit the motorcycle while trying to go around him.
The plaintiff sued for personal injuries. The City argued that it was entitled to government immunity, based on the Texas Tort Claims Act. The plea to the jurisdiction was granted, and the plaintiff appealed. The parties didn’t disagree on appeal that the officer was in the course and scope of his job when he answered the radio call for help. The appellate court determined that the officer was engaged in a discretionary function at the time of the accident, but the defendant hadn’t established the officer was acting in good faith. The claim that the officer was responding to a call about a motorcyclist fleeing from the police was not grounded in evidence. The radio transcripts showed that the dispatcher had asked for help with a motorcyclist driving recklessly.
The appellate court explained that the defendant had to show good faith by proving a reasonably prudent officer could conclude that the need for a response to the recklessly driving motorcyclist outweighed the risk to the public by the police officer speeding. It determined that based on the record, the defendant hadn’t established the officer’s good faith, since the motorcyclist wasn’t fleeing arrest.
The plea to the jurisdiction was reversed and sent back. However, the City filed a second plea to the jurisdiction, attached to which were new affidavits that claimed there was new evidence that conclusively established the officer acted in good faith by responding to a radio call related to the motorcyclist’s reckless flight from police officers. The second plea was denied. The City appealed.
The City argued that the officer was entitled to official immunity and wasn’t personally liable to the plaintiff, such that the City’s governmental immunity should be waived. The appellate court explained that when a governmental unit has immunity from a pending claim, the trial court doesn’t have subject-matter jurisdiction over it.
Section 101.021 of the Texas Tort Claims Act provides a limited waiver of immunity for government entities when personal injuries are legally caused by negligence or wrongful conduct during the operation of a motor-driven vehicle. Official immunity protects government employees from being personally liable for negligence when they are performing discretionary duties within the scope of their authority, and they are acting in good faith.
In this case, the City had evidence that the officer believed he needed to respond quickly, even though there were dangers presented by his speeding. The appellate court concluded that the defendant met the burden to show that a reasonably prudent police officer faced with similar challenges could reasonably believe the need for an immediate response was greater than the risk of pursuing him. The lawsuit was dismissed.
If you are hurt in a motorcycle accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.