Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, governmental entities are immune from suit in many situations. In such cases, a person hurt by the actions of the government cannot recover monetary damages, even though, if the defendant were an individual or business, there could have been a substantial settlement or judgment.
Some argue that this rule, which was founded on an old English legal principle to the effect that “the king can do no wrong”, is antiquated and should no longer be followed. Unfortunately, however, the doctrine is alive and well in Texas.
Facts of the Case
In the recent case of Castillo v. City of Edinburg, the plaintiff was a man who was injured while riding his bicycle in a crosswalk on a road located in the defendant city and adjacent to the defendant college campus. Both defendants filed pleas to the trial court’s jurisdiction, attempting to invoke their sovereign immunity with regard to the man’s claims of negligence. The trial court granted the motions, and the plaintiff appealed.
Decision of the Appellate Court
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting the defendants’ pleas to the jurisdiction because the placement of a yield sign and the condition of the crosswalk pavement markings constituted a premises defect, which the plaintiff argued waived both defendants’ sovereign immunity. The Texas Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The court first noted that a plea to the jurisdiction of the court was a dilatory plea designed to defeat a plaintiff’s cause of action, without regard to the merit of the underlying claims. The court went on to state that sovereign immunity was based on two distinct principles: 1) immunity from suit and 2) immunity from liability. Immunity from suit deprived a trial court of jurisdiction. In Texas, not only the State itself but also its agencies and officials are immune from lawsuits except in cases in which there has been consent to sue (through legislation, etc.). This sovereign immunity protects not only the defendant town but also the defendant university.
While the Texas Tort Claims Act provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, these situations are limited. Although there can be a waiver of immunity in a case in which a premises defect is at issue, the governmental entity being sued must have actual knowledge of the dangerous condition alleged by the plaintiff. In the current case, the court found that the plaintiff failed to establish that any acts or omissions by the defendants were the proximate cause of his injuries.
Talk to a Reliable East Texas Auto Accident Attorney
East Texas auto accident attorney Earl Drott handles a wide variety of car and truck accident cases in and around Tyler and Longview, and he will be happy to schedule a confidential case evaluation at no charge. To schedule your free consultation, call us at (903) 531-9300. No legal fees are charged unless and until we recover damages in your case, so there is no reason to delay getting the legal assistance that you need.
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