As many peaceful public protests are being held around the United States, we have recently witnessed tragedy can strike. The 1st Amendment protects citizens’ rights to peacefully protest, with the limitations that the government can regulate the time, place, and manner in which the protest is conducted. See United States Supreme Court case Ward v. Rock Against Racism.
How else might the government weaken the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters? On July 20th, prior to the horrific events at Charlottesville, Texas Representative Pat Fallon filed proposed legislation to protect motorists who hit demonstrators “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way” if the driver exercises “due care.”
As currently drafted, House Bill 250 would would not lessen criminal penalties for deadly hit-and-runs; however, an injured protester, who was found by a court to have been blocking traffic, would be unable to recover damages in a civil suit against a driver who was found by a court of law to have “exercised due care.”
CHAPTER 72A. LIABILITY ARISING FROM OPERATION OF MOTOR VEHICLE
Sec. 72A.001. INJURY TO PROTESTOR [sic]. (a) A person operating a motor vehicle who injures another person with the motor vehicle is not liable for the injury if, at the time of the injury:
(1) the person operating the motor vehicle was exercising due care; and
(2) the person injured was blocking traffic in a public right-of-way while participating in a protest or demonstration.
(b) This section does not affect a person’s liability for an injury caused by grossly negligent conduct.
This proposed bill will indirectly dilute the 1st Amendment protections of citizens by curtailing their ability to recover damages in the event of a civil lawsuit for medical treatment for fractures, amputations, traumatic brain injuries injury, spinal cord injury, and compensation for rehabilitation, lost income, scarring and disfigurement, pain and suffering. Currently in Texas, we have a type of comparative negligence law for cases involving pedestrians injured by drivers. Texas law allows pedestrian victims to recover for the proportion of fault not assigned to the plaintiff. Texas Rep. Fallon’s proposed bill would take the current law regarding injuries to pedestrians and apply a zero-liability result for drivers when their victims are participants of a demonstration.