Recently, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an opinion stemming from a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the City of Killeen, Texas (the “City”). According to the court’s opinion, the victims died after striking an un-barricaded dirt mound on an unlit road in the City. The victims’ relatives filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the dirt mound was a “special defect” on the City’s property.
Generally, under the theory of sovereign immunity, governments cannot be sued by their citizens based on a tort claim. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) allows citizens to sue the government in specific situations. The TTCA enables personal injury lawsuits based on two grounds. First, when a citizen suffers property damage, personal injury, or death from a Texas employee’s use or operation of a motor vehicle during their scope of employment. And second, if personal injury or death occurs because of a condition or use of personal or real government property.
To succeed on the second ground, the TTCA breaks down the claim into two additional classes: special and premise defects. Special defects, such as the one that was alleged in the above case, are conditions created by the government. These are conditions such as excavations and construction sites. Premises defect lawsuits often mirror typical personal injury lawsuits such as slip and fall cases. Unlike special defect lawsuits, premises liability lawsuit requires the defendant to have actual knowledge of the defect.