Maintaining a cause of action against a governmental entity whose negligence led to a traffic accident can be difficult. Unlike other, private defendants, the State and the entities within it are entitled to certain protections that can make it harder for an injured person or deceased person’s family to prevail in a negligence lawsuit.
This is not to say, however, that such a suit cannot be won. Recently, a Texas jury returned a favorable verdict against a governmental entity whose alleged negligence resulted in the death of two people in a Texas car accident along a stretch of road in which several serious accidents had previously occurred. However, since the defendant was a governmental entity, the trial court was forced to reduce the award of damages to the accident victims and families. This is because Texas law places a cap on the amount of money damages that a governmental entity must pay when a court makes a finding of negligence against it.
Facts of the Case
In a recent case, the plaintiffs were individuals who had been hurt or lost family members in a 2016 motor vehicle accident that occurred in Travis County, Texas. At the time of the crash, the driver and four passengers were allegedly traveling along a two-mile stretch of road in which some 117 crashes had occurred between 2010 and 2016. The driver’s truck hydroplaned and the crash, killing two of the passengers and injuring the driver and remaining passengers. The plaintiffs brought suit against the defendant state department of transportation, alleging that the road condition was “so worn and slick” that it posed an unreasonable risk of harm. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendant had actual knowledge of the highways dangerous condition insomuch as there had been at least four fatalities in the immediate vicinity of the crash in recent years and that the defendant had, in spite of this knowledge, failed to use ordinary care to make the premises safe.
The case was tried to a jury, which found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded damages of $5,232,994 to them. The trial court remitted the award to $500,000 in compliance with the liability limitations set by the Texas Tort Claims Act. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the defendant did not have adequate written notice of the claim and/or that a take-nothing judgment should have been entered because there was no evidence to support several elements of the plaintiffs’ claims.
The Ruling of the Appeals Court
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District of Texas at Texarkana affirmed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that the defendant had adequate notice of the plaintiffs’ claims and that the defendant was not entitled to a take-nothing judgment. With regard to the notice-of-claims issues, the court began by noting that Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101 required a party seeking to impose liability upon a governmental entity to provide formal, written notice not later than six months after the day the incident giving rise to the claim occurred. Here, the plaintiffs provided written notice of their claim within about five weeks of the accident, well within the requisite period. Additionally, even if their notice of claim was lacking in some manner, their original petition to the court (also filed within the statutory period for notice) undisputedly informed the defendant of the plaintiffs’ claims. Additionally, the appellate found that the defendant had actual notice of the plaintiffs’ claims, even though it denied negligence in response thereto.
The court likewise found no merit to the defendant’s argument that it was entitled to a take-nothing judgment, noting that the defendant had been notified of the unreasonably dangerous condition of the road on multiple occasions (including written communications from the chief of police in the town where the crash happened) yet failed to take reasonable action to prevent the crash at issue.
Get Help with Your East Texas Car Accident Case
If you have lost a loved one in an east Texas car crash or other accident, Earl Drott Law is here to help. Call us at 903-531-9300 to get started with a free case evaluation. No legal fees are collected until we have settled your case or obtained a favorable verdict in a court of law. Please be mindful that there are strict deadlines in cases involving personal injury and wrongful death and that cases in which a governmental entity is a defendant may have additional restrictions, including notice.