Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Texas decided a case that involved a State Trooper who caused an accident while in pursuit of a fleeing offender. The court determined that since the Trooper was in the course of his duty, and likely acting in good faith at the time of the accident, official immunity attached, and the case filed by the injured accident victim was dismissed.
In the case, Texas Department of Public Safety v. Bonilla, the plaintiff was injured when a State Trooper ran a red light while he was pursuing a reckless driver. The Department filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit against it based on the Trooper’s official immunity, since he was acting within the scope of his employment, was responding to an emergency situation, and was acting in good faith when he caused the accident. The parties agreed that summary judgment is only appropriate if there are no issues of material fact when the evidence is viewed in favor of the non-moving party, and in this case the evidence was to be viewed in favor of the plaintiff.
The trial court hearing the case determined that the Trooper did not conclusively show that he was acting in good faith, since a reasonably prudent Trooper could have made a different decision regarding the chase of the offender. Since the Trooper’s actions were not the only course of action available, and there was no evidence suggesting he considered other means, the court determined that there was a triable issue, and summary judgment was not appropriate. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the decision.
The State Supreme Court Disagrees
The Texas Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ rulings. The court explained that the question was not whether any Trooper “could” have responded differently, but whether “no reasonably prudent officer could have assessed the needs and risks” as the Trooper did in this case. The court explained that the good-faith rule will act to protect all “but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”
This interpretation of the good-faith doctrine as it applies to the application of government immunity at the summary judgment level is quite broad, and it may act to limit – or at least make it more difficult – to successfully bring lawsuits against government actors.
While this case arose in Texas, Maryland also provides official immunity to government actors in many situations in which a personal injury is alleged. However, the limits of that immunity are not set in stone and are commonly litigated.
Have You Been Injured by a Government Actor?
If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of car or truck accident involving a government employee, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, the actor’s official immunity may be a hurdle you must overcome. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have ample experience bringing cases against government employees and know when immunity is likely to be waived. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney, call 410-654-3600 today.
More Blog Posts:
Accident Victim’s Claim Against City that Concrete Barriers Were Improperly Installed Failed for Lack of Expert’s Testimony, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 9, 2015.
Driver in Tragic Oklahoma Parade Accident May Have Been Acting Intentionally, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published November 3, 2015.