Texas Supreme Court tells government workers it is OK to hurt people . . .

by Michael Heygood

Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in Franka v. Velasquez, 332 S.W.3d 367 (Tex. 2011) that basically removes any personal responsibility from governmental workers for their actions.  Justice Nathan Hecht, writing for the 5-2 majority, set forth that governmental workers who hurt or kill others while performing their jobs in a negligent fashion are immune from any personal civil liability.  The Court held that all civil lawsuits against any employee of the government – no matter the conduct of the employee – must be immediately dismissed.

Setting aside the logic gymnastics Justice Hecht had to undergo to reach this ruling and how he had to set aside and ignore decades of prior rulings regarding statutory construction and sovereign immunity to do so, this opinion sends a devastating message to the public by saying, “In Texas, we will not hold people responsible for their own actions if they work for the government”.

At a time when our politicians and community leaders consistently preach for us all to accept greater personal responsibility in our lives to help our society out of the current economic downturn, how can it be anything but catastrophic to enunciate a rule that not only fails to require governmental workers to accept responsibility for their own actions but actually provides them immunity for egregious negligent conduct that hurts and kills others?  What kind of message is that sending?

In a post-Franka v. Velasquez Texas:

  • A driver of a city garbage truck is texting his girlfriend and not paying attention to the road while running a red light and killing a 5 year old girl: No liability for the driver of the garbage truck!
  • A surgeon employed by a state hospital amputates a woman’s right leg when he should have amputated her left leg: No liability for the surgeon!

This is just not right.

Regardless of one’s political inclination or personal social or economic views, it should be so easy to rally around this simple premise:  People should be held responsibility for their own actions.  When the highest court in a state says otherwise, it demonstrates much too clearly how high the hurdle of justice often is.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.