Texas Court Affirms $250,000 Judgment Against TxDOT Following Motorcycle Accident on Rough Road

Although east Texas motorcycle accident lawsuits in which a governmental entity is named as the defendant can be difficult to win, there are many situations in which such claims can be successful. Since the government enjoys immunity unless it is expressly waived by statute, a would-be plaintiff’s case must fit squarely within the statutory exceptions in order for him or her to prevail, however.

It should be noted that, even when a plaintiff does win a case against the government, there may be caps on damages. Still, in a one-vehicle accident in which the government’s negligence played a significant part, such a lawsuit may be the plaintiff’s only hope for assistance with medical bills, lost wages, and other losses.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case (No. 05-16-00955-CV; Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas) was a motorcyclist who sought compensation from the defendant, the Texas Department of Transportation, following a single-vehicle accident in September 2012. According to the plaintiff, he was traveling along a state highway at about six in the morning when “his tires got tied up in a groove in the road.” As a result, he went into the ditch and was seriously injured. It was still dark when the accident occurred, with the only light being that of the plaintiff’s cycle.

At trial, the highway patrolman who responded to the accident testified that there were “big cracks” in the road. Employees of the defendant were also called to testify and said that a “Rough Road” sign had been ordered for the area where the wreck happened in order to warn drivers about the failure in the roadway. However, the sign was placed nearly two miles from the site of the accident.

The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and determined that his damages were $1.2 million. The trial court rendered judgment for the plaintiff but capped his damages at $250,000 per the Texas Tort Claims Act. The defendant appealed.

Resolution of the Issues

The defendant argued on appeal that the evidence was legally insufficient to establish that it had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition and that it failed to exercise ordinary care in failing to adequately warn the plaintiff of the rough roadway on which his accident happened. The court of appeals overruled both issues posed by the defendant and affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

The court reasoned that, although there was not express testimony to the effect that the defendant knew the road was “unreasonably dangerous,” the jury could reasonably have determined that the defendant’s actual knowledge of the specific condition that caused the accident was “actual knowledge the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm.” In so holding, the court noted that the defendant had made a decision to warn travelers of the condition.

As to the defendant’s contention that it failed to adequately warn of the condition at issue, the court ruled that there was evidence upon which the jury could have decided that the rough road signs placed nearly two miles ahead of the condition were inadequate to warn of the section of the road where the defendant was hurt. Notably, the signs were not placed according to a work order issued by certain officials of the defendant, but instead further away from the condition at issue. Additionally, there were two right-angle turns between the sign and the rough road where the wreck happened.

Need to Talk to a Lawyer?

If you have been hurt in an east Texas motorcycle accident, car crash, or truck wreck, Earl Drott Law is here to assist you in holding the responsible party financially responsible for your injuries. We offer a free case review of your accident in Tyler, Smith County, or the surrounding area. Call us at 903-531-9300 to set up a time to come in and talk to us about your case.

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