Officer entitled to official immunity after court examined needs/risk analysis performed by officer as he entered intersection

City of Dallas v. Blanca K. Hernandez-Guerrero, et al., 05-18-00033-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, December 7, 2018)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act/emergency responder/motor vehicle accident case where the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the claims.

Blanca Hernandez-Guerrero was a passenger in a vehicle that was struck by the unknown driver of a city-owned marked police car. After she filed suit, which was consolidated with other suits arising from the same accident, the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction.  The plea was denied, and the City appealed.

The City asserted Dallas police officer Antwan Dunn was dispatched to an emergency call at a group home where a man stole a purse, threatened to kill staff and residents, and was potentially armed with a knife. Dunn activated his emergency lights and siren and proceeded to the location.  At an intersection where his light was red, Dunn applied his brakes and slowed to clear the intersection, then proceeded when he believed the intersection was safe. Dunn’s vehicle was struck by the vehicle were Hernandez-Guerrero was a passenger. The dash camera video from Dunn’s vehicle showed his emergency lights and siren were engaged for five minutes before he approached the intersection, and at least thirteen vehicles pulled over for him. While Dunn did not come to a complete stop before entering the intersection and was reprimanded by the department for a policy violation, these do not indicate gross negligence. A governmental employee also has official immunity for the performance of discretionary duties within the scope of the employee’s authority, provided the employee acts in good faith including a  “needs/risk” analysis. The court analyzed Dunn’s affidavit, what was going through is head just before he entered the intersection, his evaluation of the needs/risk analysis, his perception of the risks, etc. The court held the potential danger posed by proceeding through the intersection was far less than the danger posed to the potential victims at the location of the reported emergency.  Dunn was entitled to official immunity, thereby also removing any waiver of immunity for the City.  The plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Bridges, Justice Francis and Justice Lang-Miers.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Bridges.