In a recent Texas appellate case, four people sued the City of Austin under the Texas Tort Claims Act and the recreational use statute. The case arose when a man driving under the influence drove off the street, jumped a curb, and drove onto a hiking and biking trail next to the road. The car and a traffic warning sign struck and killed two people who were walking, a man and a woman. The man died due to his injuries. The drunk driver was sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The man’s survivors sued the drunk driver and the city. Against the city, they asserted claims of gross negligence, negligence, premises defect, and special defect and argued that the city had breached its duties under the recreational use statute. They claimed that the city failed to safely build the trail, knew of previous incidents when vehicles traveled over the curb and onto the trail in the same location, and failed to appropriately warn or repair the dangerous condition. They also argued that the city maintained policies that required it to repair the problem once a danger was identified and that their failure to build a barrier was a failure to carry out a ministerial action that the city’s own policies required.
The city claimed that governmental immunity barred the plaintiffs’ claims, since sovereign immunity wasn’t waived for its discretionary choices related to the design of the road and the safety features to be installed. The plaintiffs responded that there was no immunity because the failure to fix the danger on the trail was a negligent failure to implement its own policy, rather than an initial design or policy choice for which there was immunity.