Texas Supreme Court rules 'governmental immunity' in woman's drowning

By Marian Johns | Apr 16, 2019

AUSTIN — The Texas Supreme Court has reversed a court of appeals ruling and dismissed claims against the Tarrant Regional Water District made by the parents of a Fort Worth woman who drowned while trying to cross a Trinity River dam built and maintained by the district. 

According to April 12 Texas Supreme Court filing,  the court ruled that the petitioner, the Tarrant Regional Water District, was protected by "governmental immunity" against allegations by respondents Richard and Sharkara Johnson, personal representatives of the estate of Brandy Johnson.

The case stems from the death of Brandy Johnson, who in January of 2013, tried to cross the Clear Fork of Trinity River by walking across the Trinity Park Dam. Johnson, who was five months pregnant, slipped into the river where there was a 10-foot wide kayak chute and drowned.  

Her parents then sued the petitioner, despite the district having governmental immunity, alleging the kayak chute was "deceptively dangerous" with no warning signs about the strong current and slippery surface. They alleged the district knew of the dangerous conditions due to previous accidents in the same area. 

In delivering the court's opinion, Associate Justice Jimmy Blacklock stated the federal Tort Claims Act or "discretionary function exception" applies in this case. Blacklock concluded that "the Ddstrict's failure to make judgments the Johnsons claim it should have made about the proper allocation of taxpayer resources" is a "policy decision" and is shielded "from judicial second guessing."

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