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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.”

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Although the Texas Supreme Court had previously held that seat belt non-use could not be considered in a civil case, it more recently decided such evidence can be considered for a limited purpose. It explained the new change in the following case.

The Facts of the Case

After a crash between a tractor-trailer and a pickup truck, the driver and passengers of the pickup truck sued the tractor-trailer’s driver and his employer. At the time of the crash, the pickup truck driver was trying to pass the tractor-trailer, and the tractor-trailer crashed into him as it began to turn left.

The case went to trial and the jury found that the tractor-trailer driver was 50% at fault, the employer was 10% at fault, and the pickup truck driver was 40% at fault. At the time of the crash, the pickup truck driver and his two passengers were not wearing seat belts. The jury found that because the plaintiffs were not wearing seat belts, they caused or contributed to their own injuries, and found that each of the plaintiffs was 100% responsible for their own injuries.

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The separation of powers doctrine is central to our democracy. Unfortunately, however, the application of the doctrine can mean that some Texas personal injury cases cannot be resolved by the courts because they concern unreviewable decisions made by the executive and legislative branches.

In a recent case against a military contractor, a woman filed a lawsuit after she was allegedly bitten by a dog on a United States Army base in Afghanistan. She was working as an administrative clerk at the base, and one day the dog allegedly escaped from her kennel, ran toward her, jumped and bit the woman’s shoulder. The dog also bit her buttocks before it was pulled off of her.

The woman sued the company that provided dogs to the Armed Services, alleging that the company negligently trained and handled the dog and that the dog bit her as a result. The company had trained the dog in the U.S. before being sent to Afghanistan. The dog was stationed at the base to protect soldiers and others by sniffing out improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The company claimed that the Army was at fault because of its use of the dog and because of the way it housed the dog. The company also argued that the court could not consider the case due to the political question doctrine.

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In a recent dram shop case before a Texas court of appeals, the appeals court considered whether the bar could be held liable for over-serving a customer who was later involved in a car crash.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving his motorcycle one night when a car crashed into him. The vehicle failed to yield and turned left in front of the plaintiff, who was unable to stop. The car’s driver ran over the plaintiff, who had fallen from his motorcycle, and then backed up, running over him again, before fleeing the scene.

Before the crash, the driver of the car had been drinking for several hours at different bars with a friend. They went to one bar, then to defendant’s bar, then to a third bar, then to a fourth bar where they were refused service, and then back to the defendant’s bar, where they continued drinking. The driver eventually left the bar, and struck the plaintiff on his way home. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s bar provided, sold, or served alcohol to the driver of the car when he was obviously intoxicated “to the extent that he presented a clear danger to [him]self and others.”

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In some accident cases, a personal injury claim may be brought against a minor who is claimed to have been at fault. Such cases can be complicated, and the laws concerning the liability of minors vary from state to state. In Texas, minors are generally liable for their own torts; moreover, parents may be liable for their children’s acts in some cases.Generally, a person is not required to control the acts of another person. Yet, in the case of parents and their children, a parent may be liable if the parent negligently allows the child to act in a way that is likely to harm another person. A parent may also be liable if he or she gives the child a weapon or other dangerous instrumentality, or if the parent fails to control a child who is dangerous to others.

Parents are generally required to exercise reasonable care in controlling minor children to prevent them from creating an unreasonable risk of harm to others or from intentionally harming others. Some states have laws that provide that parents are liable for the damages caused by minor children while driving vehicles for family purposes. Texas does not follow that rule, but parents may still be held responsible in some circumstances.

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Drunk driving is a serious concern throughout the country, but the issue is even more concerning in Texas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13,138 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Texas from 2003 to 2012. The rate of drunk driving deaths was higher in Texas than the national average across all age groups, according to data from 2012. In addition, the percentage of adults who reported driving after drinking too much was higher in Texas than nationally.The CDC recommends that states have harsh drunk driving laws, including zero-tolerance laws, sobriety checkpoints, and ignition-interlock devices installed on cars for all offenders, as well as mass-media campaigns and school-based instructional programs, among other strategies.

Texas DUI Law

All states have drunk driving laws in place to protect the public from drunk drivers. In Texas, the state’s blood-alcohol limit is 0.08% for individuals 21 and older, and 0.04% for commercial drivers. Additionally, there is a zero-tolerance law in effect for individuals younger than 21 years old. Being involved in a DUI accident can have devastating consequences, and individuals who are injured in a Texas drunk driving accident may pursue a claim against the drunk driver to recover compensation for their injuries.

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Any party in a Texas bicycle accident claim or other legal proceeding is required to preserve evidence relevant to that claim. Texas courts have held that a duty to preserve evidence arises when a party knows or reasonably should know “that there is a substantial chance that a claim will be filed and that evidence in its possession or control will be material and relevant to that claim.”

Spoliation of evidence is a failure to preserve evidence. If a party fails to preserve evidence, it can harm the opposing party’s ability to present or defend a claim. Therefore, if a party fails to reasonably preserve discoverable evidence, it is a serious issue with potentially drastic consequences.

Texas courts have discretion in addressing the issue of spoliation. In a Texas Supreme Court case, Brookshire Bros. v. Aldridge, the court held that the judge, rather than the jury, must decide whether a party spoliated evidence and then determine the appropriate remedy. Possible remedies include an instruction to the jury, an award of attorney’s fees, exclusion of evidence, and dismissal of a party’s claims.

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Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Texas issued a written opinion in a case involving a fatal Texas pedestrian accident, requiring the court to discuss the damages cap provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). Specifically, the court had to determine if the damages cap provision applies individually or cumulatively in cases involving several independent contractors. Ultimately, the court concluded that, when a contractor is performing an essential government function, the damages cap applies cumulatively to all defendants.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving daughter of a woman who was struck and killed by a public bus in Fort Worth. The bus was driven by a man who was employed by a company that was an independent contractor that provided drivers for Fort Worth’s public transportation system.

The plaintiff brought a Texas personal injury claim against several parties, including the driver, the driver’s employer, and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (FWTA). The FWTA is a regional transportation authority that provides for all of the public transportation needs of the city. The plaintiff claimed that each of the organizational defendants was vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence.

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Injury claims against Texas government entities can be complicated, since many agencies are protected by governmental immunity, precluding recovery in some situations. However, there are certain exceptions that can allow plaintiffs to successfully file a claim against a government entity.In a recent case before the Texas Supreme Court, a plaintiff brought a Texas personal injury claim against Harris County after she was shot by an off-duty officer in a road rage incident. The County argued that it was protected by governmental immunity, but the plaintiff argued that the claim fell under an exception because the officer was using a personal firearm. She alleged that the County’s use of tangible personal property caused her injuries. She argued the County’s use of tangible personal property was the County’s decision to hire the officer and to allow him to possess the gun as a firearm.

Governmental Immunity

Under Texas state law, governmental immunity protects political subdivisions of the state from legal liability. This includes counties, cities, and school districts. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act waives immunity for certain claims that would normally fall under the general grant of governmental immunity.

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A win at trial is not always the end of the road for plaintiffs. Mistakes at trial can result in personal injury plaintiffs enduring a lengthy appeal process and, in some cases, even a new trial. In a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Texas medical malpractice plaintiff after the Court found the evidence presented at trial confused the jury.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff had a laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH) to have her uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes removed. During the surgery, her bowel was punctured, which resulted in serious post-surgical consequences. The surgery was performed by her doctor and a resident.

Before the surgery, the plaintiff signed consent forms, which stated in part that her doctor would treat her, along with “such associates, technical assistants, and other health care providers as they may deem necessary.” It also stated that the physician might require other physicians, “including residents,” to perform tasks “based on their skill set” and under the responsible physician’s supervision. She testified, however, that she was not told that a resident would actually perform part of her surgery.

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