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Liability for Conflicting Traffic Signals in Texas?

In a recent Texas car crash decision, the plaintiff claimed she was hit by a car while using the crosswalk by a courthouse. The traffic light was flashing a walk signal when she started crossing, but the intersection light also gave drivers a protected left turn across the crosswalk with a green left turn arrow. The defendant turned left and hit her.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligent driving, but she also sued the city, county, and Department of Transportation for negligence in connection with the signals. She nonsuited the county and the Department. She supplemented her claims against the city by claiming that the city had entered into an agreement with the state in 2001. In this agreement, the city had undertaken to change the traffic signals as necessary and agreed to provide traffic lights at different intersections, including the place where she’d been injured.

She claimed the city was aware there was an issue with the traffic signals because there had been a similar accident in 2012 involving a conflicting left turn signal and a walk signal. She claimed the city police had investigated that collision, thereby allowing the city to become aware of the issue. The plaintiff alleged that even though the city knew there was a problem, it had breached its duties by failing to resolve the issue. It had not properly programmed the lights, and it had not maintained the lights or provided a safe crossing. She claimed these negligent omissions were the legal cause of her accident. She also claimed negligence per se based on violations of the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices section 4D.05(F)(1)(2) and City of Edinburg Resolution No. 01-1611.

The city argued that there was no malfunctioning of the lights, so there was no waiver of its immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. It claimed that the lights were working the way that the Department intended and that the plaintiff’s complaint had to do with road design. There was no waiver of immunity for that because it was a discretionary matter. The trial court denied the city’s plea to the jurisdiction.

The city argued it kept its immunity because the lights were functioning appropriately at the time of the injury and couldn’t be construed as a defective condition of real property and because the complaint arose from a discretionary issue about design.

The appellate court explained that the TTCA offers a limited waiver of immunity if a governmental unit would be liable to the claimant if it were a private person. The government would stay immune to claims arising from the traffic signal unless the condition was not corrected within a reasonable time after notice under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 101.060(a)(2). In the context of road signs and signals, the court has only found an immunity waiver in situations in which the signal wasn’t able to give the appropriate information or conveyed information other than what was intended.

The appellate court explained that since the city had presented evidence that the lights were functioning the way they were intended, the city had carried its initial burden by negating the condition component of immunity waiver. The plaintiff didn’t provide evidence to create a factual issue that there was a condition in real property. The appellate court reversed the lower court and rendered judgment for the city.

If you are injured by someone else in a car accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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