Court Discusses Waiver of Immunity Under the Texas Tort Claims Act

Under Texas law, government agencies have sovereign immunity from tort claims pursuant to the Texas Tort Claims Act. The immunity can be waived in certain circumstances, however, such as when a government employee harms a person via a motor vehicle used in the course and scope of their employment. Recently, the Texas courts discussed said waiver in Martin v. Village of Surfside Beach (NO. 14-22-00085-CV), a case in which the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s dismissal of her claims. If you were hurt in a car crash involving a government employee, you may be owed damages, and you should contact a Texas car accident attorney as soon as possible.

Factual Background

It is reported that the plaintiff was involved in a car accident with the defendant’s employee,  a was driving a truck owned by the defendant. The plaintiff claimed to have suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against defendant’s employee and the defendant, alleging negligence on the employee’s part for not yielding at a stop sign and arguing that the defendant was responsible under the legal principle of respondeat superior.

Allegedly, Defendant then sought to dismiss Defendant’s employee from the case, and the plaintiff dropped her claims against him while continuing with the case against the defendant. The defendant argued in its plea to the jurisdiction that the plaintiff had not demonstrated a waiver of governmental immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act, as the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment during the accident. To support its plea, the defendant presented a declaration from Defendant’s employee stating that he had left work, ran a personal errand, and was driving home when the collision occurred. The trial court accepted the defendant’s plea and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff appealed.

Proving an Employee is Working on Behalf of an Employer for Purposes of the Texas Tort Claims Act

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. The court explained that under the Texas Tort Claims Act, an “employee” of a governmental unit is someone in paid service under competent authority, excluding independent contractors. The “scope of employment” refers to performing duties assigned by the unit. When an employee driving an employer-owned vehicle is involved in a collision, there is a presumption of acting within the scope of employment.

However, if evidence suggests a personal errand, the presumption disappears. The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to provide evidence of the employee’s work-related activity. The “coming-and-going rule” generally states that employees commuting to and from work are not acting within the scope of employment. This rule exists because hazards on public roads affect everyone equally, regardless of employment.

In the subject case, the court found that it was clear from the uncontested evidence that the employee was not performing his job duties for the defendant when the collision took place. The court found, therefore, that the defendant retained its governmental immunity, and the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff’s case.

Talk to a Skilled Texas Attorney

People hurt in car accidents can often recover damages from the parties responsible for their harm, but in cases involving government agencies, demonstrating liability can be challenging. If you were injured in a car collision, it is wise to talk to an attorney about your options for seeking damages. Earl Drott is a skilled Texas attorney who can advise you of your rights and aid you in seeking the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Drott through the online form or at 903-531-9300 to set up a free conference.

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