Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a hotly-contested wrongful death case involving the tragic death of a student at the University of Incarnate Word. When it came down to the central issues in the case, however, the court recognized the scant precedent on the matter – and heavily questioned counsel for both the University and the estate of the decedent.
According to the facts as presented at the trial level, the deceased student was shot and killed by a Corporal for the University’s on-campus security team. The incident occurred following a “physical altercation” between the victim and the officer outside the victim’s apartment. The facts further detail that the officer was on-duty, but several blocks outside of the university when he initially pulled the victim over under the suspicion of a DUI. Following the victim’s combative position against the officer, he was fatally shot five times at close range.
The officer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 2015. However, the surviving family of the victim initiated a civil wrongful death action against the University of the Incarnate Word, alleging that the University was negligent in its training and hiring of the officer.
In a case of nearly first impression, the University claimed sovereign immunity under the Eighth Amendment, which insulates government actors from civil liability (excluding intentional or grossly negligent conduct). The University swiftly filed a motion to dismiss, citing its protection from such lawsuits. Using a process known as an “interlocutory appeal,” the parties highlighted the singular issue for the high court to consider, which will then give great bearing as to whether the deceased’s family will be able to successfully continue their wrongful death action. In a statement by counsel for the family, “[g]overnmental immunity by a private agency induces a lot of delay to a lawsuit. Having a clear definition makes it a lot easier for everybody.”
To learn more about your rights following a tragic injury or fatality, please contact Chandler Mathis & Zivley today: 877-739-7744.