handguns and wrongful death lawsuits

How Texas Gun Laws Play a Role in this Wrongful Death Case

A wrongful death lawsuit involving an Austin detective could change the rule books for gun owners in Texas.

It’s now up to a Texas jury to determine if the detective was negligent by leaving her gun locked up, but within reach, of an “at-risk” youth.One case that we are following involves the tragic suicide of a young woman. While visiting an aunt, the young woman used her Aunt’s partner’s gun to kill herself. The family of the young woman claims that the partner should have taken better care to stow the gun away from the teen’s reach – a negligent act that caused the death of their young daughter.

What makes this case interesting from a legal framework is that this wrongful death case could change the responsibility of gun owners in Texas if the Austin detective is found to have been negligent in storage of a weapon she uses for work.

Before her death, 16-year-old Breanna Lance had been living with her aunt, Molly Lance, and aunt’s partner Brenda Bermudez. On the night of her death, Breanna’s aunt called Bastrop police to report her missing. She said that her niece, an “at risk” youth was missing from her home.

Breanna Lance’s body was later found in Cedar Creek Park nearby, where her death was ruled a suicide. Reports say that Breanna took the gun out of Bermudez’s purse when she fell asleep. No criminal charges were filed in the city of Bastrop and the case was closed.

Now the mother of Breanna Lance, Audrey Grace Cervantes, filed a lawsuit in late July  charging that Brenda Bermudez acted negligently by leaving her duty pistol in a place that would be accessible by “at risk” Breanna.

The Lawsuit seeks $1 million for pain and suffering.

The question now is – was Bermudez acting negligently? It’s up to a jury to determine if Bermudez was acting in a way that put Lance in danger. Court documents say that Bermudez left her loaded semi-automatic weapon in her purse by the couch, then fell asleep. Bermudez claims that she placed the weapon in her purse, then locked it in a secure safe by her bed.

How does this affect gun ownership rights in Texas?

This suit brings into question where individuals can safely secure their weapons. In the event of an emergency, would a licensed gun owner be able to defend their home if their weapon is locked away in a safe. There’s a competing interest in this case to protect children from gun accidents, and people’s ability to defend themselves in their homes.

“No Texas court has ever recognized a general duty to secure firearms or ammunition, so for Plaintiff to prevail, this court must, for the first time in Texas, determine that a citizen has a duty to secure firearms as to prevent their unauthorized use by a resident of the household.”

This is certainly negligence if the plaintiff’s counsel can prove that Bermudez violated Section 46.13 of the Texas Penal Code which states that “a person commits an offense if a child gains access to a readily dischargeable firearm.”

According to court documents, Breanna Lance was staying with her aunt after her father was convicted of molesting her. He was allowed back in the home by her mother, but he was not allowed to be around Breanna Lance.

Today, Bermudez continues to investigate financial crimes. Her attorney maintains that Bermudez has not been placed on administrative leave at any time throughout the investigation of the death of Breanna Lance.

Previous litigation history: In 2014, Bermudez filed a suit against the city of Austin saying that she faced retaliation after reporting sexual harassment from male detectives in the human trafficking unit. She claims that the detectives harassed her because she would prevent “unnecessary encounters” between them and nude female human trfficking victims or suspects during undercover operations.

The case is set to be heard in Travis County district court on Oct. 9.

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