Recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a case that was filed against several parties, including the city of Austin, Texas, following a fatal traffic accident that occurred during the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. According to the court’s opinion, a drunk driver who was fleeing police drove through a block that had been closed off for the festival, killing four people. One of the victim’s family members filed a Texas wrongful death claim against the city and the festival organizers, claiming that the defendants failed to adequately block off the street to protect festival-goers.
The court dismissed each of the plaintiff’s claims against each of the defendants. First, the court determined that the family failed to show that the festival organizers controlled the area where the victim was killed. A city generally owns the public roads, but the family alleged that the festival organizers had a city permit that made it the occupier of the area where the driver was killed. However, the court pointed out that the right-of-way permit, which was attached as an exhibit, stated that all traffic controls had to be provided “in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.” The city-approved traffic control plan stated that the block was open to regular vehicular traffic. Therefore, the city still controlled the street, and the festival organizers had no duty to act.
Next, the court went on to determine that the city was immune from liability. Under Texas law, a municipality is generally immune from suit under the longstanding principles of governmental immunity. However, while a city is immune for torts that are committed while in the “performance of its governmental functions,” it is not immune for torts “committed in the performance of its proprietary functions.”