Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Opinion Date: April 6, 2021
Judge: Don R. Willett
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Military Law, Personal Injury
In 2015, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood fatally shot his neighbors, his wife, and himself. The victims’ families filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the district court entered final judgment in favor of the United States, dismissing the case with prejudice. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, concluding that the district court did not commit a clear error in finding that the harm to the victims was not foreseeable to the Army. The court explained that, under Texas law, a plaintiff must show both foreseeability and cause in fact to establish proximate causation. In this case, there were no red flags regarding the soldier’s behavior preceding the shootings; the evidence at trial showed that the Army was getting mixed messages about who was the victim of the altercation between the soldier and his wife twelve days earlier, and the murders and shootings committed by the soldier could not have been reasonably anticipated by the Army. The district court also found that the soldier’s killings were “a superseding, unforeseeable event that could not have been anticipated by the Army based on the information they had during that 12-day period” between the February 9 altercation and the February 22 killings. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the district court’s foreseeability finding, and the district court did not commit a clear error in making its finding.
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