City buses and vans travel daily on every major road and intersection in Texas. Major metropolitan cities all have rapid transit systems. Cities like Dallas and Houston have their own forms of light rail.
With all of the daily travel, it is inevitable that city buses, vans and other vehicles will become involved in accidents with members of the public. Oftentimes, the city employee driver will be at-fault for causing the accident.
It is important to know that the same rules that apply to most drivers and companies do not apply to cities, counties and other state-owned vehicles.
If you are involved in an accident with a Texas government vehicle, there are special laws that limit the time to bring a claim and file a lawsuit and caps on the amount of damages that you can recover and who you can sue to bring your claim.
Why does that affect my case?
As governmental entities, city, county and state-owned vehicles are afforded many protections that are not available to private citizens. This is known as “sovereign immunity.”
That seems unfair, and it is, but the rationale is that the person that makes the rules gets to decide whether or not they see it fit to be held accountable.
To combat that inequality, the state legislature can enact laws to waive these protections in whole or in part. Some states have more liberal laws, while others are more conservative and protectionist.
In Texas, we fall on the far-right end of the spectrum, so the State of Texas has very limited waivers of immunity. Let’s take a closer look.
Has sovereign immunity been waived?
Yes, there is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity against the State of Texas, its cities and counties.
A governmental unit is liable for any of the following caused by the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment arising from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment:
- Property damage
- Personal injury
But the government employee acting in the course and scope of his or her duties has immunity from suit through a provision known as an election of remedies. The election of remedies states that a suit brought against the governmental unit acts as a bar from bringing suit against the employee arising out of the same incident and vice versa.
If the suit is brought against the employee, the employee has the right to have the suit dismissed if the claimant doesn’t substitute the governmental unit.
So, there is no way to sue the driver in the hopes of holding the driver personally responsible for the accident. The correct election of remedies in cases involving government vehicles is always to sue only the governmental entity.
Special time limits for filing a claim or lawsuit against a governmental entity
In Texas, the statute of limitations for negligence actions is two years.
Most of our clients and the people we consult with have a basic understanding of the statute of limitations in Texas.
But there is another provision that requires written notice to the governmental entity within six months of the accident. The notice must reasonably describe the following information:
(i) the damage or injury claimed
(ii) the time and place of the incident
(iii) the incident.
The law also states that a city’s charter or ordinance requiring notice within a charter period permitted by law are ratified and approved. This potentially means that a city can shorten further the six-month time limit for notice.
For instance, the El Paso City Charter provides that written notice must generally be provided within 90 days of the incident giving rise to the claim. The City of El Paso Charter also provides that the notice must be sworn to (verified) by the Claimant or his or her representative.
Therefore, there is a good chance that if you wait more than 3 months to make a claim and provide written notice to the City of El Paso, your case will be forfeited.
Once the written notice is provided, however, the injured person has two years to actually file the lawsuit.
Limitations on the amount of liability or caps on damages in these types of Texas cases
There are severe limits on the amount of money the injured victim can recover against the State of Texas and its cities and counties.
The most a person can recover against the State of Texas and its cities for damages is capped at a maximum amount of:
- $250,000 for each person
- $500,000 for each occurrence for bodily injury or death
- $100,000 for each occurrence for property damage
Liability of a county is limited to money damages a maximum amount of:
- $100,000 for each person
- $300,000 for each single occurrence for bodily injury or death
- $100,000 for each single occurrence for injury to or destruction of property
In a catastrophic injury case, these limits on damages are woefully inadequate to compensate for the injured person’s harms and losses.
Contact the Harmonson Law Firm for more information
If you or a loved one were involved in an accident with a government vehicle, time is of the essence given the strict notice requirements. Claims should be handled with the assistance of a qualified personal injury lawyer that has the knowledge and experience to avoid the pitfalls found in the TTCA.
My advice is to never handle a government claim on your own. Contact me today for help with your case.