Cadet Loses Claim Against Austin Police Trainers

Written on 05/13/2022
Will Aitchison

Christopher Wise was a cadet in the Austin Police Academy. In a lawsuit he later filed, Wise alleged that on October 1, 2018, he was engaged in “a very strenuous series of physical exercises in an activity entitled Stress Reaction Training.” The training was scheduled from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on a day when the high temperature in Austin was approximately 88 degrees and the relative humidity was approximately 94% at 2:24 p.m., with a heat index of 100 degrees. The cadets were required to perform these training exercises “in heavy clothing while wearing a service belt which held various items of equipment.”

Wise alleged that instructors dis­couraged cadets from drinking water except at designated intervals. Wise was one of nine cadets who required medical attention during the training and one of five cadets who were transported to various hospitals. Wise alleged he became incapacitated about an hour and a half after the first three cadets required medical attention and the first nine emergency vehicles began arriving at the Academy. He contended that at no time during the 90-minute interval did the Stress Reaction Training instruc­tors stop discouraging the cadets from drinking water.

Wise went on to contend that he “had already sustained heat exhaustion when the trainers became aware of his condition,” but they “did not summon medical help at that time.” Consequent­ly, “for the next several minutes, Wise’s condition deteriorated from simple heat exhaustion” to additional, more serious injuries, including heat stroke. Wise claimed that “the trainers knew that Wise had already suffered an injury and that he would suffer additional injuries unless he received immediate medical attention” and that, “despite this knowl­edge, Defendants failed and refused to summon medical help promptly.”

Wise sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that his workers’ compen­sation benefits should not be set-off against any recovery he made against the individual trainers. The City and the trainers opposed the claim, and the dispute wound up in the Texas Court of Appeals.

The Court rejected Wise’s claim. The Court’s opinion focused on a pro­vision of the Texas Tort Claims Act that a governmental employer “is entitled to dismissal the lawsuit upon proof that the suit is: (1) based on conduct within the scope of the defendant’s employment with a governmental unit; and (2) could have been brought against the govern­mental unit under the Tort Claims Act.

“Conduct falls outside the scope of employment when it occurs within an independent course of conduct not intended by the employee to serve any purposes of the employer. The critical inquiry is whether, when viewed objec­tively, a connection exists between the employee’s job duties and the alleged tortious conduct. Simply stated, a governmental employee is discharging generally assigned job duties if the em­ployee was doing his job at the time of the alleged tort. The employee’s state of mind, motives, and competency are irrelevant so long as the conduct itself was pursuant to the employee’s job responsibilities.

“Here, Wise alleged that during the training exercises that resulted in his injuries, each of the trainers was superior in rank to each of the cadets and was, in some capacity, a supervisor of the cadets and of the Stress Reaction Training, and each was responsible to implement the stated policies of the Department, but that each failed to implement the stated policies with respect to ensuring that the cadets remained properly hydrated while engaging in strenuous exercise. Wise further alleged that the officers intentionally prevented and intentional­ly failed to permit the cadets to remain properly hydrated and/or failed to en­sure that the cadets remained properly hydrated during the training.

“These allegations conclusively es­tablish that a connection exists between the officers’ job duties, specifically their supervision of the cadets’ training exer­cises, and the alleged tortious conduct, i.e., their alleged failure to ensure that the cadets remained properly hydrated during the training. Wise argues that it is ludicrous to suggest that intentional injuries inflicted on Wise by the trainers were done in the scope of their employ­ment with the City. However, this Court has held that intentional torts can fall within the scope of employment.

“In sum, the undisputed allegations conclusively establish that the trainers were entitled to be dismissed from the suit on that basis.”

Manley v. Wise, 2022 WL 548266 (Tx. Ct. App. 2022).

The post Cadet Loses Claim Against Austin Police Trainers appeared first on Labor Relations Information System.