Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court continued a trend of exonerating governmental entities from facing any responsibility for their alleged negligence by ruling that a city was immune from suit.
The decision was rendered in City of North Richland Hills v. Friend, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2012). In this case, Sarah Friend was in line waiting for a water slide at a park operated by the city. When she collapsed, various employees responded. They brought certain airway equipment, but they failed to include an automatic external defibrillator (aed) device located in a closet at the park. As a result, Sarah did not receive “defibrillation until twenty-one minutes after her initial collapse,” when the fire department finally arrived, and she died.
The city claimed that it was immune from suit, meaning that a jury should not be allowed to determine if it was negligent. Due to a law passed by the Legislature, normally a city cannot be held accountable for the non-use of property. In such a situation, the Legislature has imposed the cost of personal injury or death on the victim or his survivors, rather than on the negligent governmental agency. However, 36 years ago, the Court recognized that an exception exists when the property used “lacked an integral safety component.” For instance, prior decisions established that, for a football player with a prior knee injury, a uniform without a knee brace lacks an integral safety part. Also, providing swimming gear to an epileptic, without any life preserver, involved personal property that was missing integral safety equipment.
Here, the Court said that the Aed did not constitute an “integral safety component.” Accordingly, the Court ruled that the city should not have to stand trial for its negligence, and it is therefore immune from any obligation to pay for the harm it caused.