Slowing and visually observing stopped traffic was not reckless action for purposes of emergency responder doctrine of TTCA
City of Kingsville v Dominguez, 13-19-00236-CV (May 28, 2020)
This is a motor vehicle accident case under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) where the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
Dominguez alleged that Oscar Mendiola, while operating a City fire truck, failed to yield the right of way at a signal light which resulted in a collision with Dominguez’s vehicle. The record demonstrated the fire truck was traveling behind an ambulance and the truck’s siren and emergency lights were both activated. Mendiola slowed as he approached, visually confirmed traffic had stopped, then proceeded. According to the official accident report, the investigating officer concluded that the fire truck driver was facing a red light and failed to yield the right of way to Dominguez. The officer also concluded that Dominguez “disregarded an Emergency Vehicle while operating emergency lights.” The officer did not issue a citation to either driver. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction based on the emergency responder exception of the TTCA. The plea was denied and the City appealed.
Part of the policy behind the emergency responder exception is because imposing “liability for a mere failure in judgment could deter emergency personnel from acting decisively and from taking calculated risks” and would “allow for judicial second-guessing of the split-second and time-pressured decisions emergency personnel are forced to make.” However, compliance with the requirements of Chapter 546 of the Texas Transportation Code does not relieve the driver of liability if they act recklessly (i.e., he understood the risks but did not care about the result). The City argued Mendiola acted to minimize the risk to others as he entered the intersection, thereby demonstrating that Mendiola “clearly did care about the result” of his actions. Dominguez responds that Mendiola’s actions of entering the intersection against a red light without stopping were evidence of recklessness. The court held the fire truck driver slowed below the speed limit, visually confirmed stopped vehicles, had the lights and sirens on, and therefore did not act recklessly. As a result, the plea should have been granted.
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