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Texas Supreme Court Determines Off-Duty Officer Was Immune from Liability in Recent Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In May 2019, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in a Texas wrongful death case discussing whether an off-duty officer could be held individually liable after he shot and killed a suspect while attempting an arrest outside the officer’s jurisdiction. Under the state’s election-of-remedies provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act, the court determined that the officer could not be held liable in his individual capacity.

Under the election-of-remedies provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act, government employees cannot be held individually liable for injuries they cause to others under certain circumstances. Specifically, an injured victim cannot hold a government employee personally liable when:  1.) the employee’s actions were conducted within the scope of their employment, and 2.) the case could have been brought against the government.

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiffs’ son was shot and killed by an off-duty officer (the defendant) during an attempted arrest that occurred outside the defendant’s jurisdiction. The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer in his individual capacity.

The officer claimed that the plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed because it was prohibited under the election-of-remedies provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act. Specifically, the officer claimed that he was acting within the scope of his employment when he shot and killed the plaintiffs’ son. The lower court rejected the defendant officer’s argument and denied his motion for dismissal. The court held that, since the encounter occurred outside the officer’s jurisdiction, he would merely be authorized—not obligated—to make an arrest. The defendant appealed to the intermediate appellate court, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The defendant then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

On appeal, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decision, holding that the plaintiffs could not pursue a claim against the officer in his individual capacity. The court explained that the fact that the encounter occurred outside the officer’s jurisdiction did not mean that his act of attempting to arrest the plaintiffs’ son was outside the scope of his employment. The court explained that the question is whether the employee at issue was “doing his job,” rather than “the quality of the job performance.” The court explained that, regardless of whether the officer’s decision to approach and attempt to arrest the plaintiffs’ son was a good one, it was within a statutory grant of authority and thus within the scope of the officer’s employment.

Have You Been Injured by a Texas Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to the negligent or intentional actions of a government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Texas personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. At Carabin Shaw, we represent accident victims in all types of personal injury claims, including Texas car accident cases involving government employees, as well as other claims based on a government employee’s negligence. To learn more, call 800-862-1260 to schedule a free consultation today. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.