The unlawful acts doctrine has been overruled by the Texas Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the court said that there is no longer use for the unlawful acts doctrine. In the past, the doctrine barred plaintiffs from recovery in suits in which plaintiffs were involved in the commission of a crime at the time of the incident. However, Texas has a statute which recognizes proportionate responsibility and reduces the need for the common law doctrine. Proportionate responsibility allots a percentage of negligence to each individual responsible for the damages sustained by a plaintiff, including, and not limited to the plaintiff himself.
The decision arose out a negligence dispute in which, Martinez, a Texas man, died of complications related to illegal drug use with a friend who failed to timely contact emergency responders following Martinez’s overdose. The family of the deceased brought a wrongful death suit against the friend and the friend raised the unlawful acts doctrine defense, proclaiming that Martinez chose to indulge in illegal drugs.
As this defense, which would normally prevent a defendant from being liable in such instances is no longer a viable option, defense attorneys are concerned. They assert that the ruling reduces the availability of a bar-all remedy in wrongful death and personal injury suits and that it makes it easier for admitted lawbreakers to recover. Supporters of the decision are confident that statutes such as “assumption of risk” will substantively serve the purpose of both sides. Those supporters assert that assumption of risk limits recovery in instances in which plaintiffs are involved in illegal activities, yet encourages the public to act with ordinary care notwithstanding the plaintiff’s participation in illegal activities.