Texas Appellate Court Finds City of San Antonio Given Immunity Prematurely in Suit over Deaths Resulting from High-Speed Police Chase
This article originally appeared in Goldberg Segalla’s Professional Liability Matters. Read the issue here.
Jimmy and Regina Maspero sued the City of San Antonio in 2014 after two of their children were killed and two others severely injured in a car crash that the Masperos alleged was caused by a high-speed police chase involving a Chevrolet Suburban that ended up colliding head-on with their Volvo.
According to the suit, police began chasing the Suburban when the driver sped off as officers were trying to stop him for not using a turn signal when changing lanes.
San Antonio narcotics detectives saw the Suburban’s driver fail to signal while they were stopping motorists suspected of hauling drugs from a rural property believed to be a drug-distribution center and contacted San Antonio police sergeant Dominic Scaramozi and officer Kimberly Kory to stop the black SUV. Kory, who had been with Scaramozi at a nearby gas station, responded to the call by falling in behind the Suburban and activating her lights. The Suburban slowed and pulled onto the right shoulder but then sped off onto Loop 1604 and Kory gave chase without authorization to do so.
Reaching speeds of more than 100 miles an hour, the Suburban weaved in and out of rush-hour traffic with Kory in pursuit. The officer continued the chase onto I-35 South even though, according to the suit, she did not believe she could catch the Suburban and did not receive necessary authorization from Scaramozi upon notifying him as to what was happening.
The Suburban drove down a grassy median and onto a frontage oad with Kory following. The officer exited the interstate highway going 94 miles an hour. Soon after that, the driver of the Suburban lost control going through an intersection and spun out, reversing course so that it was headed toward Kory rather than away from her. To avoid colliding with the Suburban, Kory veered off the right shoulder and the Suburban drove past her car and crashed head-on into the Masperos’ Volvo, killing two children in the car—the Masperos’ three-year-old and one-year-old sons.
After the family sued the city in 2014, alleging that the officer’s negligent and reckless pursuit had cost them their sons’ lives, a lower court granted the City of San Antonio immunity in the wrongful-death suit, ruling that the city was shielded from liability because the officer was responding to an emergency and there was no clear connection between the chase and the crash.
In 2019, the appellate court in Texas disagreed and ruled that the once stalled wrongful death suit should go forward, ruling that there was evidence the police officer involved in the chase waived immunity by acting recklessly and flouting department policy prohibiting unauthorized chases.
The plaintiffs also showed that the officer failed to activate her siren, traveled up to 100 miles an hour, and weaved between 18-wheelers and other vehicles during rush-hour traffic on two busy highways. The court agreed, noting that the officer had neglected to weigh the benefits of catching the suspect against the public safety risk of a chase.
The appellate court’s reversing the lower court’s finding of immunity has cleared the way for the plaintiffs to pursue their negligence-in-implementation-of-policy claim.
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