Published on:

highwayTexas plaintiffs can have difficulty bringing claims against a governmental entity due to governmental immunity. However, there are many exceptions to governmental immunity that allow plaintiffs to bring claims against governmental entities. In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court upheld a claim against the Texas Department of Transportation after the plaintiff was involved in a car accident.

The plaintiff was driving a tractor-trailer on Highway 83 traveling toward Laredo. Another tractor-trailer stopped in front him, and he slowed and went onto the shoulder to avoid colliding with the tractor-trailer. The plaintiff hit an 8 ¾ inch drop-off between the shoulder and the ground. One of the truck’s tires went onto the ground and as the plaintiff tried to bring the tire back onto the shoulder, the tire popped, causing the tractor-trailer to tip over onto its side. The plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the Texas Department of Transportation, but the Department argued that it was immune from suit. A jury found the Department was negligent, and the court awarded the plaintiff $250,000 in damages. The Department appealed the decision, arguing again it was immune from suit.

Governmental Immunity under Texas Law

Governmental immunity protects the political subdivisions of the state from suit, such as counties, cities, and school districts. A Texas governmental entity is normally immune from lawsuit unless specifically waived under Texas law. The plaintiff has the burden of showing how immunity has been waived. Governmental immunity is waived for certain claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act.

Continue reading →

Published on:

stop signLate last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case requiring the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case against the defendant city should proceed toward trial over the city’s motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the city claimed it was entitled to government immunity because it did not have notice of the fallen stop sign that allegedly caused the accident in which the plaintiff was injured. Ultimately, the court rejected the city’s argument and denied its motion because there were disputed facts regarding the applicability of immunity in the case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when she was side-swiped while driving through an intersection in Houston. The plaintiff was traveling northbound at the time of the accident. At this specific intersection, traffic traveling in the east-west direction did not have a stop sign. There was a stop sign for both northbound and southbound traffic, which is where the dispute between the parties arose.

After the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, claiming it was liable for her injuries because the stop sign for northbound traffic had been knocked over and was lying on the ground after the accident. The city claimed that the sign was not knocked down, and was visible at the time of the accident.

Continue reading →

Published on:

scooterEarlier this year, a company by the name of Lime was given permission to open its electric-scooter sharing operating in Dallas. The scooter-share program is similar to the ubiquitous bike shares that have opened up across the country, however, instead of bicycles, the company allows customers to rent motorized scooters.

The differences between the risks involved with riding a bicycle and a motorized scooter have resulted in many expressing hesitations. Residents protested the scooter share, arguing that it will result in an increased number of inexperienced operators, worsen the city’s already notorious traffic situation, and present additional risks to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Earlier this month, Dallas suffered its first fatal rental scooter crash. According to a local news report, the accident is being investigated as a single-vehicle crash, although the accident victim’s family believes that another vehicle was involved.

Continue reading →

Published on:

car keysRecently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case discussing whether the plaintiff’s case against an allegedly negligent driver’s employer should proceed to trial where the accident occurred while the employee was not on-the-clock. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant employer’s no-evidence motion was properly granted because the plaintiff could not establish that the driver was acting in the performance of his duties as an employee of the defendant at the time of the accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when a truck collided with his vehicle. The plaintiff initially filed a lawsuit against the driver, but later withdrew that case after filing a lawsuit against the driver’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the employer was vicariously liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The evidence showed that the employee had recently left the work site for the day, and was giving a co-worker a ride back to his hotel. On the way back from the job site, the employee stopped to show his co-worker the site of a future job. As the employee turned into the future job site, he struck the plaintiff’s car. It was also established that the defendant paid for the employee’s gas.

Continue reading →

Published on:

car accidentRecently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a case that was filed against several parties, including the city of Austin, Texas, following a fatal traffic accident that occurred during the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. According to the court’s opinion, a drunk driver who was fleeing police drove through a block that had been closed off for the festival, killing four people. One of the victim’s family members filed a Texas wrongful death claim against the city and the festival organizers, claiming that the defendants failed to adequately block off the street to protect festival-goers.

The court dismissed each of the plaintiff’s claims against each of the defendants. First, the court determined that the family failed to show that the festival organizers controlled the area where the victim was killed. A city generally owns the public roads, but the family alleged that the festival organizers had a city permit that made it the occupier of the area where the driver was killed. However, the court pointed out that the right-of-way permit, which was attached as an exhibit, stated that all traffic controls had to be provided “in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.” The city-approved traffic control plan stated that the block was open to regular vehicular traffic. Therefore, the city still controlled the street, and the festival organizers had no duty to act.

Next, the court went on to determine that the city was immune from liability. Under Texas law, a municipality is generally immune from suit under the longstanding principles of governmental immunity. However, while a city is immune for torts that are committed while in the “performance of its governmental functions,” it is not immune for torts “committed in the performance of its proprietary functions.”

Continue reading →

Published on:

car seatbelt Although the Texas Supreme Court had previously held that seat belt non-use could not be considered in a civil case, it more recently decided such evidence can be considered for a limited purpose. It explained the new change in the following case.

The Facts of the Case

After a crash between a tractor-trailer and a pickup truck, the driver and passengers of the pickup truck sued the tractor-trailer’s driver and his employer. At the time of the crash, the pickup truck driver was trying to pass the tractor-trailer, and the tractor-trailer crashed into him as it began to turn left.

The case went to trial and the jury found that the tractor-trailer driver was 50% at fault, the employer was 10% at fault, and the pickup truck driver was 40% at fault. At the time of the crash, the pickup truck driver and his two passengers were not wearing seat belts. The jury found that because the plaintiffs were not wearing seat belts, they caused or contributed to their own injuries, and found that each of the plaintiffs was 100% responsible for their own injuries.

Continue reading →

Published on:

dog biteThe separation of powers doctrine is central to our democracy. Unfortunately, however, the application of the doctrine can mean that some Texas personal injury cases cannot be resolved by the courts because they concern unreviewable decisions made by the executive and legislative branches.

In a recent case against a military contractor, a woman filed a lawsuit after she was allegedly bitten by a dog on a United States Army base in Afghanistan. She was working as an administrative clerk at the base, and one day the dog allegedly escaped from her kennel, ran toward her, jumped and bit the woman’s shoulder. The dog also bit her buttocks before it was pulled off of her.

The woman sued the company that provided dogs to the Armed Services, alleging that the company negligently trained and handled the dog and that the dog bit her as a result. The company had trained the dog in the U.S. before being sent to Afghanistan. The dog was stationed at the base to protect soldiers and others by sniffing out improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The company claimed that the Army was at fault because of its use of the dog and because of the way it housed the dog. The company also argued that the court could not consider the case due to the political question doctrine.

Continue reading →

Published on:

empty mugIn a recent dram shop case before a Texas court of appeals, the appeals court considered whether the bar could be held liable for over-serving a customer who was later involved in a car crash.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving his motorcycle one night when a car crashed into him. The vehicle failed to yield and turned left in front of the plaintiff, who was unable to stop. The car’s driver ran over the plaintiff, who had fallen from his motorcycle, and then backed up, running over him again, before fleeing the scene.

Before the crash, the driver of the car had been drinking for several hours at different bars with a friend. They went to one bar, then to defendant’s bar, then to a third bar, then to a fourth bar where they were refused service, and then back to the defendant’s bar, where they continued drinking. The driver eventually left the bar, and struck the plaintiff on his way home. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s bar provided, sold, or served alcohol to the driver of the car when he was obviously intoxicated “to the extent that he presented a clear danger to [him]self and others.”

Continue reading →

Published on:

In some accident cases, a personal injury claim may be brought against a minor who is claimed to have been at fault. Such cases can be complicated, and the laws concerning the liability of minors vary from state to state. In Texas, minors are generally liable for their own torts; moreover, parents may be liable for their children’s acts in some cases.

Peeling OutGenerally, a person is not required to control the acts of another person. Yet, in the case of parents and their children, a parent may be liable if the parent negligently allows the child to act in a way that is likely to harm another person. A parent may also be liable if he or she gives the child a weapon or other dangerous instrumentality, or if the parent fails to control a child who is dangerous to others.

Parents are generally required to exercise reasonable care in controlling minor children to prevent them from creating an unreasonable risk of harm to others or from intentionally harming others. Some states have laws that provide that parents are liable for the damages caused by minor children while driving vehicles for family purposes. Texas does not follow that rule, but parents may still be held responsible in some circumstances.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Drunk driving is a serious concern throughout the country, but the issue is even more concerning in Texas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13,138 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Texas from 2003 to 2012. The rate of drunk driving deaths was higher in Texas than the national average across all age groups, according to data from 2012. In addition, the percentage of adults who reported driving after drinking too much was higher in Texas than nationally.

Cocktail and KeysThe CDC recommends that states have harsh drunk driving laws, including zero-tolerance laws, sobriety checkpoints, and ignition-interlock devices installed on cars for all offenders, as well as mass-media campaigns and school-based instructional programs, among other strategies.

Texas DUI Law

All states have drunk driving laws in place to protect the public from drunk drivers. In Texas, the state’s blood-alcohol limit is 0.08% for individuals 21 and older, and 0.04% for commercial drivers. Additionally, there is a zero-tolerance law in effect for individuals younger than 21 years old. Being involved in a DUI accident can have devastating consequences, and individuals who are injured in a Texas drunk driving accident may pursue a claim against the drunk driver to recover compensation for their injuries.

Continue reading →