AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — In the past seven years, nearly 4,300 Texas Department of Public Safety patrol vehicles have been involved in crashes. In some cases it wasn’t the trooper’s fault but in 37 percent of the cases, the crashes were deemed “preventable” by the state agency.
But even in crashes where the trooper is found to be at fault, the victim might never see a dime for the damage or injuries they sustain because the state’s attorney general is arguing the crash happened while the officer was doing their job.
Anisty Mirasol’s four-year ordeal dealing with the state after she was involved in a crash with a trooper is now in the hands of a judge. In 2012, Mirasol was driving on Eleventh Street in Austin when a trooper, who was trying to conduct a traffic stop on a driver in pickup truck, turned in front of her.
“I wasn’t sure what was happening… he didn’t have his sirens on. I’d seen the light but the way he was traveling, I assumed he was going to another call,” explained Mirasol.
The collision was bad enough that Mirasol had to undergo back surgery, which left her owing more than $120,000 in medical bills. “I really think the biggest thing for me has been how much pain I went through.”
Even though the crash was ruled “preventable,” Mirasol says the state is refusing to pay for the damages. The Attorney General’s Office, which represents DPS, argued in court that a state law gives officers immunity in cases like this. But, a Travis County judge disagreed, stating DPS did not prove “that a reasonably prudent officer could have believed” that apprehending the pickup truck driver immediately “justified taking any increased risk in driving.” The judge determined Mirasol’s case should go to trial.
The Attorney General’s Office is currently appealing the ruling. In a court filing, Attorney General Ken Paxton says the lower court judge got it wrong and Mirasol is to blame for not stopping in time to avoid the collision.
The DPS trooper involved in the crash had three prior crashes, two of which were labeled “preventable.” The agency had him take an 8-hour driving course.
Mirasol believes the driving course was not enough of a reprimand for the officer.
“It’s frustrating… I went through consequences financially, emotionally, physically, because of his decision,” said Mirasol. “It’s not fair.”
DPS policy calls for a range of disciplinary action for troopers who cause a crash. From counseling and driver training for a single accident, all the way up to removal from operating a vehicle or termination after the sixth preventable crash.
Immune from Liability
Austin attorney Mike Shaunessy, whose expertise is in sovereign immunity, says since the state drafts up the rules, it’s nearly impossible to sue the state.
“This just doesn’t apply to the state of Texas, it applies to all governmental entities in the state,” said Shaunessy. “It’s going to apply to every city, every county, every university, all the special purpose districts.”
While Mirasol’s case is still in limbo, DPS data shows the agency has paid up for the mistakes it has made before. The agency has used taxpayer money to pay out more than $8 million in hundreds of liability claims since 2000.
Because the case is still on-going, DPS said they could not comment on it.