This weekend, the Texas Supreme Court further insulated police officers from responsibility when they injure citizens during reckless police chases. The decision came in the case of Texas Department of Public Safety v. Merardo Bonilla.
In the Bonilla case, a trooper ran a red light causing a crash that injured another motorist. The trooper was chasing a driver he claimed was “reckless,” apparently in order to give him a traffic ticket.
Even before the Bonilla decision, the Court had created extreme rules to protect police officers and their employers from bearing responsibility for their negligence during police chases. For instance, the injured citizen must prove that no reasonable officer could believe that the officer was justified in making the chase. That requires hiring an expert witness and adducing testimony simply to avoid a pretrial dismissal of the suit. The officer is supposed to prove that he continually assessed the risk and benefit of starting and continuing the chase. That requires balancing the risk of crashing into innocent people using the roadways with the benefit of apprehending a suspected lawbreaker. The previous law required the officer to provide evidence of alternatives. Here, however, the officer did not offer the required proof. As a result, the court of appeals determined he did not have immunity for his negligence.
But, the Supreme Court reversed. It effectively excused the officer’s failure to comply with the law by finding that the officer “implicitly” offered the alternatives to the police chase (which previously was required to prove). In effect, the officer merely must recite what he did, and the court will fill in the rest for him.