STPRA was very concerned about the potential liability of property owners who, through no fault of their own, might experience death or injury to others on or near their properties as a result of errors or omissions by law enforcement, border patrol or public safety officials. Several members of STPRA and their friends and neighbors had experienced this liability exposure. As a result, some had restricted access to their properties by the aforementioned officials. Property owners who had not directly experienced instances of possible liability exposure were still deeply concerned about protecting themselves from possible liability in the future.
The U.S. Border Patrol has a huge presence in South Texas and a crucial role to play in protecting the public. To most effectively perform their mission, however, Border Patrol agents need access to private property. That access may now be allowed by property owners who no longer must be fearful of liability exposure that might occur in a pursuit situation. There are also public safety and law enforcement actions by police and sheriffs’ departments, Parks and Wildlife officials, and fire-fighting jurisdictions which often occur on private property. Under the new legislation, none of these situations should pose liability threats to property owners either.
In the 2009 session of the Texas legislature, State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa introduced legislation limiting land owner liability for “damages arising from an act or omission of a peace officer”. However, in the Senate State Affairs Committee, apparently some members had concerns about the broad scope of the legislation, especially as it might relate to urban areas. As a result, the bill was rewritten in that committee to refer only to damages caused by escaped livestock. The bill was finally passed and became law in that form.
In 2011 STPRA led a successful effort to strengthen and broaden landowner protection as it was originally intended. In cooperation with our allies and the leadership of Sen. Hinojosa and Rep. J.M. Lozano, our bill was passed as an amendment to a larger trespassing liability protection bill, SB 1160.
Property owners are appreciative of the overall objectives of law enforcement and public safety agencies. Protecting property owners from liability for actions and omissions of officials at all levels of government will enable the property owners to be full partners in exercises by state, federal, and local officials.
We have had intensive talks with committee staff counsel working under Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith and they have informed us that by passing the legislation that we did at the state level, we have also protected property owners from liability for actions of the Border Patrol. These staff counsel have stated that any lawsuit filed against a property owner for actions by the Border Patrol would have to be filed in state court, which would be obligated to comply with the protections provided by the state law. Our goal now is to inform property owners of the protections they have been afforded.