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Is the City of Houston Liable for a Police Officer Caused Accident While Responding to an Emergency?

Emergency Responers at accident site

Police officer involved accidents In Texas

Employers can be held vicariously liable for accidents caused by their employees. For example, if someone is making a delivery for their employer in a company-owned vehicle and causes a car accident, the victims can sue the employer under the theory of vicarious liability. The employer is liable for the damages the same as the negligent driver. What about in an officer involved accident?

This rule can also apply to accidents caused by public employees. So if an employee of the City of Houston causes an accident in a city-owned vehicle, the victims can also seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. But claims against the city–or any political subdivision of Texas–must follow a special set of procedures known as the Texas Tort Claims Act. This Act “waives” the sovereign immunity the state normally enjoys from lawsuit.

Texas Supreme Court Throws Out Lawsuit Arising from 2017 Collision

But what about a situation where a bystander is injured in the course of a police chase or a city-owned vehicle responding to an emergency? In these cases, the waiver of sovereign immunity does not always apply. So even if a city employee is negligent, the victims may end up walking away with nothing.

A recent decision from the Texas Supreme Court, City of Houston v. Green, provides a case in point. This case involved an early-morning accident that took place here in Houston back in 2017. A police officer received an emergency call regarding an armed suspect. The officer activated his emergency lights and drove northbound on Hillcroft Avenue. At the intersection of Hillcroft and Richmond Avenue, the officer collided with another vehicle, injuring its driver and passenger.

The victims subsequently sued the City of Houston. Both sides effectively claimed the other caused the accident. The plaintiffs alleged the officer had been traveling “very fast” through the intersection and overall drove in a reckless and negligent manner. In contrast, the officer testified that he was traveling at a slow rate of speed and that the victim who was driving had been speeding and did not have her headlights on.

Lawsuit Dismissed

The City moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the “emergency exception” to the Texas Tort Claims Act applied. The emergency exemption, as the name suggests, means that a city cannot be held liable for an officer involved accident “while responding to an emergency call or reacting to an emergency situation,” provided that employee follows standard procedures for dealing with such situations and their actions are “not taken with conscious indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others.”

The trial court declined to dismiss the case, holding that the victims presented sufficient evidence to create a triable issue as to whether the police officer’s actions constituted “reckless disregard” for public safety. The city appealed that decision, which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court held that based on the record of this particular case, the victims could not continue their lawsuit. The Court said there was no evidence that the officer “acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others” while responding to a legitimate emergency.

Contact Houston Car Accident Lawyer Matt Stano Today

Even a seemingly simple car accident can raise a number of contested legal and factual issues that may affect your ability to recover compensation for your injuries. A qualified Houston car accidents attorney can review your case and advise you of your rights in this area. Contact The Stano Law Firm today at (832) 777-0390 to schedule a free consultation.