William Helfand Speaks With The Texas Lawbook On Texas Supreme Court Cases Involving Immunity of Police Officers under the Texas Tort Claims Act
Houston, Texas (February 6, 2024) – Houston and Salt Lake City Partner William (“Bill”) S. Helfand recently spoke with The Texas Lawbook regarding three cases that are pending in the Texas Supreme Court, each of which involves issues related to the immunity of police officers and the emergency exception to the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA).
As the article titled, “SCOTX Takes 3 Cop Crash Suits This Term,” explains, the Texas Supreme Court soon will decide three cases in which police officers were involved in automobile accidents while responding to calls for service. Specifically, the court will determine whether the officers acted with “reckless disregard,” which would negate their immunity under the TTCA. These cases are City of Houston v. Sauls, City of Houston v. Rodriguez, and City of Austin v. Powell. In discussing the emergency exception to the TTCA, Mr. Helfand told The Texas Lawbook that the Texas Supreme Court was likely to build on the framework that it outlined in its 2022 decision in City of San Antonio v. Maspero. In Maspero, San Antonio police officers were pursuing a drug trafficking suspect at approximately 100 mph when they crashed into the Maspero family car. The accident killed two of the Masperos’ sons and injured two other children as well as the parents. The Texas Supreme Court held that the emergency exception applied and, thus, barred the family from suing the city.
Mr. Helfand explained, “Maspero does seem to answer the questions presented by all three cases. . . . It reinforces a concept to which the Supreme Court has held firm really since the enactment of the Tort Claims Act but the courts of appeals have waivered from time to time. There’s a heavy presumption of governmental immunity.” In addition, Mr. Helfand noted, “This could be a broader effort by the court to once again make a bright line, clear explication of the rule of law from which the Supreme Court has not waivered, which is courts of appeal or trial courts are not supposed to try and find exceptions or waiver.”
In underscoring his opinion further, Mr. Helfand referenced Fourteenth Court of Appeals Justice Kevin Jewell’s dissent in City of Houston v. Rodriguez. In Rodriguez, officers pursuing a prostitution suspect in a stolen car crashed into a pickup truck. Mr. Helfand described, “Justice Jewell’s dissent really holds true to that … it’s consistent with the Maspero case and the long line of cases holding that there’s immunity unless disproven by the plaintiff.”
Mr. Helfand serves as a vice-chair of Lewis Brisbois’ Labor & Employment Practice. His practice covers a wide range of litigation, arbitration, and dispute resolution. Based on his demonstrated problem-solving approach, both private and public entity clients of all types reach out to him to handle their most difficult legal problems.
Read the full Texas Lawbook article here (subscription may be required).