Since trooper entitled to official immunity in car accident case, DPS also immune from care accident says Austin Court of Appeals

Texas Department of Public Safety v. Anisty Mirasol, 03-15-00300-CV (Tex.App— Austin, September 29,2016)

The Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) appeals from the trial court’s order denying its plea to the jurisdiction in a vehicle collision case with a DPS officer under the Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”).

DPS Trooper Goodson spotted a pickup truck without a front license plate and attempted a traffic stop. After the pickup pulled into a parking lot, Trooper Goodson attempted a left turn to do the same. Mirasol’s vehicle collided with the rear passenger door of Trooper Goodson’s patrol car while in mid-turn. Mirasol sued DPS under the TTCA. DPS filed a plea to the jurisdiction and summary judgment motion and attacked the DPS dash-camera video and the accident report. DPS argued the it was immune because Trooper Goodson retained official immunity for his action. The trial court denied the plea and DPS appealed.

The first and third requirements for official immunity are whether Trooper Goodson was (1) performing a discretionary act (2) within the scope of his authority. An on-duty officer in his squad car pursuing a suspect is performing a discretionary duty within the scope of his authority. The fact that the specific act that forms the basis of the suit may have been negligent does not mean that an officer acted outside the scope of his authority.  The evidence established that when the accident occurred, Trooper Goodson was on duty in his DPS-issued patrol car, pursing a suspect in a pickup truck for the purpose of making a traffic stop to enforce a traffic regulation so met these requirements. Next the court examined the officer’s objective good faith. An officer acts in good faith if “a reasonably prudent officer, under the same or similar circumstances, could have believed that the need to immediately apprehend the suspect outweighed a clear risk of harm to the public in continuing the pursuit.”  The court analyzed the “need” requirement and “risk” requirements in detail.  Trooper Goodson testified he was unsure if the driver was going to pull over or “flee or bail” and he explained his considerations in making the turn when he did. In assessing the risks, he described the clear weather, dry pavement, light traffic, lack of pedestrian traffic, daylight conditions, unobstructed view, low-speed pursuit, his belief that it was clear for him to make the turn, and his subsequent realization that Mirasol was traveling “too fast.” The court held Trooper Goodson conclusively established that a reasonable officer, under the same or similar circumstances, could have balanced the need and risk as he did and was entitled to official immunity. As such, the trial court should have granted the plea.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Justice Puryear, Justice Goodwin and Justice Bourland. Justice Goodwin delivered the opinion of the court. The attorney listed for DPS is Ms. Elsa Giron Nava.  The attorney listed for Mirasol is Mr. Paul A. Batrice.