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Texas Supreme Court Holds Notice Requirement Was Met in Governmental Tort Lawsuit

Recently, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an opinion stemming from a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the City of Killeen, Texas (the “City”). According to the court’s opinion, the victims died after striking an un-barricaded dirt mound on an unlit road in the City. The victims’ relatives filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the dirt mound was a “special defect” on the City’s property.

Generally, under the theory of sovereign immunity, governments cannot be sued by their citizens based on a tort claim. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) allows citizens to sue the government in specific situations. The TTCA enables personal injury lawsuits based on two grounds. First, when a citizen suffers property damage, personal injury, or death from a Texas employee’s use or operation of a motor vehicle during their scope of employment. And second, if personal injury or death occurs because of a condition or use of personal or real government property.

To succeed on the second ground, the TTCA breaks down the claim into two additional classes: special and premise defects. Special defects, such as the one that was alleged in the above case, are conditions created by the government. These are conditions such as excavations and construction sites. Premises defect lawsuits often mirror typical personal injury lawsuits such as slip and fall cases. Unlike special defect lawsuits, premises liability lawsuit requires the defendant to have actual knowledge of the defect.

Under the TTCA a claimant must provide the governmental unit “notice of a claim” within six months of the incident. This notice must describe the damages or injury, the time of the event, and the actual incident. However, the notice requirement does not apply if the governmental unit has actual notice of the injury, death, or property damage. Generally, the notice requirement must be filed within 180 days of the incident; however, certain Texas cities have shorter deadlines. For example, Houston’s notice requirement is 90 days.

In this case, the Supreme Court reversed a decision dismissing the claim based on a lack of notice. The plaintiffs admitted that they did not provide the City with formal notice of their claim. However, they argued that the City possessed actual knowledge of the deaths and therefore the did not need to provide notice. The evidence showed that the City employed its investigators to evaluate the road, and that the investigators concluded that the special defect contributed to the deaths of the motorists. Therefore, the Supreme Court found that the City had actual notice and dismissal based on the plaintiffs’ lack of notice was inappropriate.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of Governmental Negligence?

If you or a loved one suffered injuries because of the negligence of a governmental entity or dangerous condition on government property, contact the experienced Texas car accident lawyers at Carabin Shaw. The attorneys at Carabin Shaw have extensive experience handling these types of complex governmental immunity tort lawsuits. The attorneys at the law firm can assist you in understanding your rights and effectuating your remedies. You may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. Contact our San Antonio law firm by calling 800-862-1260 to schedule your free initial consultation.