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Suing the City for a Rear-End Accident in Texas

tunnelIn a recent Texas car accident case, an on-duty police officer rear-ended the plaintiff’s van. Afterward, the police supervisor came to the scene and spoke to both the police officer and the plaintiff. He prepared the investigative reports.

Later, the plaintiff sued the city for damages under the Texas Tort Claims Act on the ground that the officer’s negligence caused the collision and his serious injuries. He claimed that the city had been given actual and formal notice. The city denied the allegations and argued in a plea to the jurisdiction it hadn’t been given timely actual and formal notice of the claims.

The plaintiff argued the notice requirement was satisfied because he’d actually told the officer and his supervisor about his injuries at the time of the accident. The trial court denied the city’s plea to the jurisdiction.

The appellate court explained that without a waiver, a governmental entity will be immune from lawsuits for damages. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act waives immunity when a lawsuit is based on injuries from the operation of a motor-driven car under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 101.021. A claimant should notify the government about the negligence within six months after the date of the accident that gives rise to a claim. The notice is supposed to describe what happened, the place, the time, and the injuries. Formal notice isn’t necessary when the government has actual notice of an injury.

The notice requirement is to make sure that there is prompt reporting so that the government can collect any information needed to protect itself against improper claims, settle claims, and make preparations for trial. If there’s no timely notice, the government keeps its immunity from a lawsuit.

The government can raise the defense of immunity in a plea to the jurisdiction. The plaintiff has the burden of affirmatively showing the trial court’s jurisdiction over the lawsuit. In this case, the plaintiff argued he’d given actual notice, and he didn’t disagree that the formal notice he’d given was not timely.

The city argued that it hadn’t gotten actual notice at the scene because the police officer and his supervisor testified he hadn’t complained about injuries at the scene. The plaintiff, meanwhile, relied on investigative reports that showed he’d had a slight pain and that the officer had gotten distracted while driving.

The government has actual notice when it knows of an injury, death, or property damage, its fault produced or contributed to those damages, and it knows the identity of the parties in the accident. The government doesn’t have to be absolutely certain about the nature of the injury to “know” of it under the statute. Subjective awareness of the injury can be shown through circumstantial evidence, and knowledge can be imputed to the government when an agent has a duty to investigate an accident.

There were disputed factual issues related to the degree of notice the plaintiff gave the supervisor about his injuries. He said that he was in pain and trying to stretch, but the supervisor didn’t respond. The appellate court presumed that the trial court found that the plaintiff told both the supervisor and the officer he had a slight pain and was either stretching or rubbing his back during the notification.

The city argued this was insufficient because it was vague. The appellate court disagreed, noting that “a slight pain” coupled with reinforcing actions showed he wasn’t all right and had been injured. The trial court’s order was affirmed.

If you are injured in a car wreck, you should consult a Texas attorney to seek a favorable outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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