Justices keep Galveston County in suit alleging officers responsible for causing beachgoers’ injuries

HOUSTON – The 14th Court of Appeals recently affirmed a ruling denying Galveston County governmental immunity in a lawsuit brought by injured beachgoers. 

Court records show plaintiffs Victoria Leach and Stacie Habetz sued the county for negligence, alleging two officers ordered an unlicensed driver to move the vehicle that caused their injuries. 

In May 2018, an event called “Go Topless Jeep Weekend” was held on Crystal Beach in Galveston County. Among the estimated 100,000 attendees were Jazzmine Chin, Craig Bell, Leach and Habetz, court records state. 

Chin decided to leave the event and Bell agreed to give her a lift in his Dodge Charger. Bell attempted to exit the beach but his car became stuck in the sand, blocking traffic on the beach. Bell and Chin got out to check the car, then Chin sat in the car’s driver’s seat with the engine running, but she was not licensed to drive, court records state. 

An officer then walked to the Dodge and told Chin to move the car. Hearing this, Bell approached and told the officer it was his car and that he would move it, but the officer placed his hand on his gun and told Bell to shut up and back up. Chin told the officer she did not have a driver’s license, but Cooley again told her to move the car, court records state. 

The car went in reverse, striking two pedestrians and a parked Jeep. Leach had been standing in front of the parked Jeep. She attempted to jump out of the way but one of her hands was caught between the Jeep and the Dodge. The reversing Dodge struck Habetz, too, but the parties do not describe Habetz’s location or injuries, court records state. 

After the suit was filed, Galveston County filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the ground of governmental immunity and lack of statutorily required notice, but the trial court denied the plea, court records show. 

On appeal, the county argues that the trial court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because governmental immunity bars Leach’s and Habetz’s claims; Leach and Habetz dismissed their claims against the county for negligent hiring, training, and supervision; and as to Habetz’s claims only, the county neither received pre-suit notice nor had actual notice of the claims, court records state.

On Dec. 9, the 14th Court found no reversible error in the trial court’s denial of the county’s amended plea, affirming the trial court’s order. 

The county is represented by attorneys Genevieve McGarvey and Lee Mencacci of McLeod, Alexander, Powel & Apffel. 

Attorney Randall Hart of Broussard & Hart represents the plaintiffs. 

Appeals case No. 14-20-00181 

Written by  Staff reports

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