Sovereign Immunity and the Winkler County nurses

In this month’s Texas Nursing Voice, the Director of Government Affairs for the Texas Nurse Association, James Willmann, gives an introduction to the concept of sovereign immunity to nurses.  The basic concept is that Governmental entities may be immune from suits because the “Government” can do no wrong.  The concept is based on an old English legal concept that essentially holds the King is never wrong.

So you ask – why is this applicable to nurses and why now?  Well, for those of you who missed it (as I did blogging . . . .), the Winkler County nurses charged with misuse of official documents either had the charges dismissed (Galle) or were found not guilty by a jury (Mitchell).   And now they are suing  several entities, including government officials and the facility, a county-owned facility.  And in order for a person to sue a governmental entity, the State of Texas must waive that immunity.  But the State may also limit the type and amount of damages that may be sought.

Mr. Willmann points out that there are two lines that the nurses may use to attack sovereign immunity: 1) the Texas Public Employee Whistleblower Act and 2) the Texas Nursing Practice Act.  The take-home message for those nurse employed by public entities is there may be remedies if you are wronged by the public employer, but the damages may be limited.  If you have a problem regarding a public entity employer, early consultation with an attorney may lead to protecting your rights.


5 Responses to Sovereign Immunity and the Winkler County nurses
  1. Penelope
    May 12, 2010 | 12:53 am

    Yeah there is a long time rule about state immunity and this is included in the constitution of many countries in the world. There can be no legal means against the authority which makes the law on which the right depends. This is because of the principle of “par in parem non habet imperium” which means literally that an equal cannot have power over an equal. However there are exceptions. These nurses have rights and must impose their rights even against their own government.

  2. Marc M. Meyer
    May 12, 2010 | 4:06 am

    Nice Latin. Yes, there are exceptions – the exceptions that the state allows under the whistleblower act and the NPA. In this case in Winkler County, apparently all of the defendants in the civil suit are attempting to use sovereign immunity as a defense and the Texas Nurses Association is on top of the situation. There was a bill in the last legislative session that was reported out of committee, but died on the floor of the house (with many others, I might add) to expand the rights of nurses to take action against public employers when they are wronged. TNA has been behind this bill, so hopefully it will get farther in the next legislative session.

  3. Sturm Law
    December 30, 2010 | 1:08 pm

    It is really tough to sue the government. Really tough. But the great thing is if they are really in the wrong and you have enough evidence you can do it America.

  4. Ross Madison
    March 22, 2011 | 2:25 am

    The idea behind making the Winkler nurses invincible to sue is totally absurd. In case of malpractice of the nurses, who will make them pay for carelessness practiced if they have sovereign immunity shielding the guilty?

  5. Marc M. Meyer
    March 22, 2011 | 11:40 am

    Apparently you didn’t read the note very well. The nurses were not accused of malpractice, but were fired for reporting a physician to the state medical board. They were suing under the whistleblower statutes and the entity they were suing was a governmental entity, hence the sovereign immunity issue.