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Court Finds State Liable for Injuries Caused by Drop-off on Road’s Edge

Texas 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.

The Court’s Decision

Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, governmental immunity is waived for “special defects such as excavations or obstructions on highways, roads, or streets.” In this case, a Texas Department of Transportation maintenance supervisor testified that the Department’s manual states that three inches is the maximum depth of an acceptable drop-off. He also testified that employees inspect highways conditions and that ten days prior to the accident, employees were repairing potholes on that road and should have been able to see the drop-off. He also testified that as a supervisor he should have had policies and procedures in place so that he would have known about the hazard.

The court found that in this case, the drop-off was an unexpected danger to drivers. The drop-off was greater than the maximum acceptable height, and steep drop-offs can prevent drivers from reentering the roadway and cause them to lose control of their vehicles. Therefore, it concluded that it was a “special defect” and the government could be held liable, thereby upholding the jury’s award in favor of the plaintiff.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you need an accident attorney on your side for injuries or your loss, consult an experienced attorney. Carabin Shaw was founded 25 years ago to fight of the rights of Texas auto accident victims. We have offices in San Antonio and across the state. Our lawyers have over 200 years of combined experience in personal injury law and are dedicated to advocating on behalf of accident victims. We are vigilant in protecting our clients’ rights and interests. Call us at 1-800-862-1260 or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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