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Texas Wrongful Death Case Against Emergency Personnel Fails

In a recent Texas wrongful death action, the appellate court considered the trial court’s denial of a city’s plea to the jurisdiction. The case arose after the husband and the adult kids of the decedent sued the city under the Texas Tort Claims Act. They claimed that the fire department personnel who responded to their 911 call for a lift and assist for the decedent failed to provide integral safety features that should have been contained in the emergency medical services vehicle to carry out a lift and assist, and the failure had legally caused her injury and death.

They claimed that they’d called 911, asking for help at home because the decedent had fallen out of bed and they couldn’t lift her back into bed. Four or five staff from the fire station came in an emergency medical services vehicle. The staff had been called to give lift and assist help to the decedent in prior situations and knew about her condition.

When they arrived, the decedent’s legs were under the bed. The staff stood behind her, put his arms under her arms, and yanked upwards. Because of this, her leg hit the bed frame, and she suffered a laceration under the knee. The family claimed they failed to put her body in a proper position to use a safety device like a portable lift board or sling. The laceration caused substantial blood loss, and the family claimed that the emergency personnel wrapped the wound but didn’t stop the bleeding. She went to the hospital, suffered a heart attack, and died.

The family argued that her death was a result of the trauma and blood loss from the laceration. They sued the city and the fire department. The city denied the allegations and claimed the family had failed to plead a waiver of the city’s governmental immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The family then petitioned to name only the fire department. However, in response to this, the city filed an answer on the basis that the fire department wasn’t a separate legal entity. In their third petition, the city was named, and the plaintiffs asserted immunity had been waived under section 101.021 of the Tort Claims Act.

The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction and moved to dismiss. The family didn’t respond. Instead, they filed another petition, claiming for the first time that the personnel should have used a lift board or sling to move the decedent. The city argued that the claim of non-use didn’t waive its immunity.

The trial court asked the family to respond. The family responded and filed a fifth amended petition. They argued that using an emergency medical services vehicle that didn’t have crucial safety components to move the decedent waived the city’s immunity. The trial court denied the city’s motion to dismiss and plea to the jurisdiction. It appealed.

On appeal, the city argued that governmental immunity wasn’t waived because the allegation of a failure to use basic safety components was actually an allegation about not using tangible personal property, and this wasn’t a basis for a waiver of immunity. The appellate court concluded that the complaint in this case was that the personnel had failed to use a portable lifting device to move the woman. The allegation of not using tangible personal property didn’t waive immunity. The trial court’s order was reversed.

If a loved one dies as a result of negligence, the San Antonio wrongful death 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.

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