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Ag. Commissioner Supports Court Limit On Landowner Liability

State of Texas

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court encouraging them to limit landowner liability regarding accidents that involve undocumented migrants.

Staples writes in his brief that the State of Texas must protect policies that enable landowners to secure their land from trespassers and illegal activity without fear of legal retribution.

"What is at stake here is an appellate court has reversed what we think has been decades of Texas law," Staples said. "And the bottom line is private landowners cannot be held liable for a trespasser’s self-inflicted injuries when they are illegally smuggling people or goods across private land."

Staples bases his argument on a 2007  incident involving a car crash on a private ranch in South Texas. The driver of the vehicle was smuggling several migrants who were without documentation, whose relatives later filed suit against the Texas landowner. 

Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project said the agriculture commissioner is sending the wrong message to the Texas migrant community.

"We believe as a principal of democracy that everybody’s life is important and equal and it doesn't matter what their status is," he said.

Harrington said the Texas Civil Rights Project plans to file a counter-brief with the court, which will take up the case early this fall.