HOUSTON – A Texas woman has won an appeal against the city of Houston in her case over a traffic collision with a police officer.
On Dec. 21, 2018, Justice J. Brett Busby of the 14th Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the 333rd District Court of Harris County's judgment against Maria Christina Gomez. Gomez had been involved in a motor vehicle accident with a city of Houston police cruiser driven by Officer Bobby Joe Simmons. In her appeal, Gomez alleged that the trial court erred when it granted the city's plea to the jurisdiction.
"Gomez raises two issues in this appeal asserting that the trial court erred when it granted the city of Houston’s plea. We sustain Gomez’s issues because there are material fact issues on whether Officer Simmons acted in good faith as required for official immunity, as well as whether Officer Simmons’ actions demonstrated a conscious indifference to, or reckless disregard for, the safety of others," Busby wrote. "Because we sustain Gomez’s issues on appeal, we reverse the trial court’s judgment dismissing her claims and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings."
According to the filing, the city made two arguments in its plea to the jurisdiction during trial, arguing that the officer involved in the accident was "protected by official immunity, which preserved the city’s governmental immunity," the opinion stated.
Second, the city argued that it was immune because the "emergency exception in the Texas Tort Claims Act barred any possible waiver of its governmental immunity," according to the opinion.
"We disagree with the city's position because there is a material question of fact regarding whether Officer Simmons acted recklessly or with conscious indifference to the safety of others," Busby wrote.
In her appeal, Gomez contended that the trial court erred when it granted the "city of Houston’s plea to the jurisdiction based on the emergency exception to section 101.021’s waiver of immunity."
On the night of the accident, Simmons was responding to a reported robbery in progress. According to the opinion, he failed to turn on his emergency lights and siren because the incident had been downgraded. As Simmons proceeded to the scene of the call, his cruiser reportedly slid into an intersection and collided with Gomez's vehicle. During testimony, Simmons admitted that he turned on the emergency lights but not the siren.