Texas Court Discusses Establishing Notice of Claims Against Government Entities

The Texas Tort Claims Act law generally protects governmental entities from civil liability. There are exceptions, however, under which parties injured by government employees acting in their scope of work can pursue claims against the government. In doing so, they must follow the proper procedure, which, in part, requires them to provide the government entity with notice of their claim within the statutory timeframe. In a recent Texas case arising out of a collision involving an ambulance, City of Alvin, v. Edna Fields (No. 01-22-00572-CV), the court discussed what evidence is needed to establish actual or constructive notice. If you were injured in a crash caused by another party’s negligence, you might be owed damages, and you should meet with a Texas car accident lawyer at your earliest convenience.

Factual and Procedural Setting

It is reported that in October 2019, the plaintiff called 911 due to a headache and weakness in her left arm. She had suffered an intracranial bleed two weeks prior.  Emergency medical technicians employed by the defendant city responded. After assessing the plaintiff, they suspected she suffered a stroke, and they decided to transport her to the hospital via ambulance.

It is alleged that while approaching an intersection at about 65 miles per hour, the ambulance entered against a red light, colliding with a pickup truck. No significant injuries were reported at the scene. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit nearly two years later, alleging negligence claims against the defendant and the pickup truck driver. The defendant claimed governmental immunity, arguing that the plaintiff failed to give the defendant notice of her claim within six months. The trial court denied the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss. The defendant appealed.

Establishing Notice of Claims Against Municipal Entities

The primary issue on appeal was whether the defendant had notice of the plaintiff’s claims.  The court explained that, in Texas, governmental immunity prevents a trial court from having subject matter jurisdiction over lawsuits against the State’s political subdivisions unless the Legislature waives immunity. The Texas Tort Claims Act (the Act) is one such waiver that allows certain tort claims against governmental entities if the claimant provides prompt notice of the claim. The notice must be given no later than six months after the incident that gave rise to the claim.

Actual notice is a crucial aspect of the Act. It means that the governmental entity has subjective knowledge of the incident, its fault that caused or contributed to the injury, and the identity of the parties involved. The Texas Supreme Court clarified that actual notice is not merely being aware that an accident occurred; it requires specific knowledge of the injury sustained in the accident. The notice may be imputed to the governmental unit if an agent or representative responsible for investigating the facts and reporting them to someone of sufficient authority has knowledge of the incident.

In the subject case, the court found that the evidence demonstrated an issue of fact as to whether the defendant had actual notice of the collision. As such, the court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Talk to a Dedicated Texas Attorney

Government employees have an obligation to operate government vehicles with the requisite skill and care needed to avoid collisions, and if they fail to do so, the government may be held accountable for the losses the employees cause. If you were hurt in a car accident involving a government employee, you should talk to an attorney about what claims you may be able to pursue.  Earl Drott is a dedicated Texas car accident attorney who can advise you of your rights and aid you in pursuing the maximum recovery available under the law. You can reach Mr. Drott through the online form or at 903-531-9300 to set up a free conference.

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