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Texas Supreme Court Rejects Claim Against County for Officer’s Road Rage Shooting

Injury claims against Texas government entities can be complicated, since many agencies are protected by governmental immunity, precluding recovery in some situations. However, there are certain exceptions that can allow plaintiffs to successfully file a claim against a government entity.In a recent case before the Texas Supreme Court, a plaintiff brought a Texas personal injury claim against Harris County after she was shot by an off-duty officer in a road rage incident. The County argued that it was protected by governmental immunity, but the plaintiff argued that the claim fell under an exception because the officer was using a personal firearm. She alleged that the County’s use of tangible personal property caused her injuries. She argued the County’s use of tangible personal property was the County’s decision to hire the officer and to allow him to possess the gun as a firearm.

Governmental Immunity

Under Texas state law, governmental immunity protects political subdivisions of the state from legal liability. This includes counties, cities, and school districts. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act waives immunity for certain claims that would normally fall under the general grant of governmental immunity.

In these cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing how the Act has waived the government’s immunity. One such exception is for claims for personal injury that are caused by the government unit’s use of tangible personal property.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the plaintiff claimed that the County “used” the officer’s gun by authorizing him to use it or possess it. The court explained that a governmental unit does not “use” personal property by simply allowing someone to use it. Therefore, the court held that the County did not “use” the officer’s personal gun, and thus, the plaintiff’s case did not fall under that exception.

The plaintiff also alleged that, since the officer had a troubled employment history before and during his time as an officer, the County should not have hired him, should have fired him, or should have withdrawn its authorization for him to possess his firearm while on duty. The court explained that although that information might be relevant if the County were a private employer, the County is immune except in limited circumstances, and that evidence did not mean that the County used the officer’s personal property. Thus, the court maintained that the County’s decision to hire and retain the officer could not be the County’s “use of tangible personal property.” As a result, the Court found the government was immune from suit and rendered judgment in favor of the County.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been injured, contact a San Antonio personal injury attorney as soon as possible. At Carabin Shaw, we aggressively represent individuals across Texas who have suffered catastrophic injuries or lost loved ones to wrongful deaths. We are dedicated to advocating for the rights of individuals injured or wrongfully killed in all types of Texas accidents. We stand up for accident victims against insurance companies, and we will take a case to trial and beyond if an insurance company wrongfully refuses to honor or resolve your claim. Call us at 1-800-862-1260 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

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Liability After Texas Freshman Killed on Campus?, Texas Injury Lawyers Blog, February 13, 2018

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