It is generally always considered dangerous and deadly for a pedestrian to try crossing I-35 on foot. However, on the morning of June 19, a man aged 25-30 was struck and killed as he tried to do just that. The car that struck him contained two police sergeants who were on their break, which may have potential implications if the deceased person’s family were to decide on bringing suit. At very least, it would open the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) up to potential liability. If you lose a loved one in an auto accident, it can feel overwhelming as to how best to proceed, but cases like these are often instructive.
Pedestrian Accidents in Texas Are Common
New preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) shows that being a pedestrian in U.S. metropolitan areas is more dangerous than it has been in a long time, with approximately 6,000 pedestrians being killed by accidents with vehicles in 2017. Texas’ count was approximately 260 deaths, which ranks 13th in the country, and while this is slightly better than in the past, it is nonetheless sobering. Texas, California, Florida, New York and Arizona account for approximately 45 percent of the nation’s pedestrian fatalities, despite comprising only 30 percent of the country’s population. This accounts for a higher proportion of vehicle-related deaths than it has in the last 33 years.
Texas law holds that pedestrians must yield the right of way to vehicles if trying to cross at any point other than a crosswalk, as this young man on I-35 was doing. However, even if it turns out that the young man might have been at fault for failing to yield the right of way, it must also be asked if the automobile could have stopped in time to avoid him. While a proper accident reconstruction could potentially answer such questions, the point is that fault cannot be apportioned without further investigation.
Multiple Liability Questions Arise
The other question to be asked in this type of accident is regarding the liability of the San Antonio Police Department, which might conceivably be found to share such a burden if a wrongful death suit were filed. Texas has a concept called vicarious liability, also called respondeat superior, which states that an employer may be held liable for torts committed by its employees as long as the employees were acting within the scope of employment. With most employers, all that would need to be proven is that the employees were still within the “scope of their employment,” despite being on break, for liability to attach.
With a governmental agency, however, there is first a question of what the law calls sovereign immunity. Historically, many governments were immune from suit because to be otherwise would swamp them with suits, leaving them no time to run the government. However, most U.S. governments, including federal and state, have tort claims acts permitting suits against government agencies in specific, limited situations. Texas’s, in particular, specifies that government agencies are liable for personal injury or death and property damage if two criteria are met: the damage must have involved a motor vehicle, and the person involved would otherwise be personally liable to the plaintiff if they were both individual entities.
Seek Help from an Experienced Attorney
Regardless of what the family of the deceased young man decides to do, it is important to understand your rights in wrongful death cases, especially if they involve a government actor. The talented New Braunfels wrongful death lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm are ready, willing and able to sit down with you and try to answer any questions you may have at such a difficult time for you and your family. Contact us today to set up an appointment.