Court holds officer responding to emergency call was not reckless when he lost control of patrol vehicle and collided with oncoming car

Norma Torres v. City of Corpus Christi, 13-14-00506-CV (Tex.App— Corpus Christi, September 1, 2016)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case involving a car accident with a police officer. The Thirteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Corpus Christi police officer Robert Walker was responding to a fleeing stolen vehicle. He responded and activated his emergency lights and sirens. On his way to an intercept location in order to set up road spikes, he rounded an “S” curve in the road and lost control. Officer Walker admitted he was traveling faster than the posted speed limit. He explained that his police cruiser’s brakes did not respond as he expected and he lost traction as he entered the curve. He slid sideways into oncoming traffic and Walker’s and Torres’ vehicles collided. Torres sued. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was granted. Torres appealed.

The court first held that a TTCA claim may not be brought against the governmental entity when the claim arises from an employee responding to an emergency call or reacting to an emergency situation, unless the action was taken with conscious indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others. This is an objective, not a subject standard. Officer Walker’s subjective belief that he was or was not driving in a reasonable and prudent manner does not change the nature of the call to which he was responding. After analyzing the evidence and testimony, Torres was not able to dispute Walker was responding to an emergency call. Section 546.001(3) allows emergency vehicle operators to exceed a maximum speed limit as long as the operator does not endanger life or property. Torres offered no evidence showing Officer Walker’s speed before he entered the curve and immediately before the accident. Moreover, Officer Walker testified that he did slow down once he entered the curve, though not enough to avoid entering Torres’s lane. So he was not consciously indifferent to the situation. Officer Walker testified that he activated his vehicle’s lights and sirens. He explained that he recognized his speed was too fast for the curve and attempted to slow the vehicle. The cruiser did not respond to Officer Walker’s braking efforts as anticipated and he was unable to effectively control his vehicle.  The accident report indicated that both vehicles drove away from the accident. Torres’s airbag did not deploy as a result of the accident and she did not request an ambulance after the collision. There is no evidence or expert testimony estimating the speed of the vehicles prior to the collision based on the amount of damage each vehicle sustained.  Given that Torres presented no evidence to create a fact issue as to what Walker did and why, there is no evidence of recklessness. As a result, the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Justice Benavides, Justice Perkes and Justice Longoria. Justice Perkes delivered the opinion of the court. Attorneys for the Appellant: Hon. Thomas J. Henry and Hon. George A. DeVera. Attorneys for the Appellee: Hon. Lilia K. Castro, Hon. M. Michael Meyer, and Hon. Mark DeKoch.