Texas Court Upholds Governmental Immunity in Negligence Action

The success of any motor vehicle negligence case depends in large part on the facts surrounding the accident and the knowledge and experience of the plaintiff’s counsel. In order to state a claim on which relief may be granted, the injured victim must also anticipate and address any potential defenses that the defendant could assert. Properly assessing one’s case and preparing a strong strategy can make a huge difference in a plaintiff’s recovery. For these reasons, if you have been injured in a car accident, it is vital that you contact an experienced and knowledgeable injury attorney from the local East Texas area as soon as possible.

A recent Texas court of appeals case nicely illustrates the importance of understanding how procedural laws can affect the course of a negligence case. In Northcutt v. City of Hearne, the plaintiff brought a personal injury case against the City (on behalf of the deceased – James H. Bell), seeking wrongful death and survival damages. According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that Bell was driving his motorcycle on Highway 79 when an Officer was on the side of the road in a private driveway, setting up a “speed trap.” The Officer turned on his lights and drove onto the shoulder of the road, allegedly causing Bell to swerve to avoid a collision.

The plaintiff alleged that this evasive action caused Bell to lose control of his motorcycle, which flipped, and he was thrown onto the highway. Tragically, another driver struck Bell, and he died. As part of the petition, the plaintiff alleged that the City waived governmental immunity under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. In response, the City denied the plaintiff’s allegations and alleged that the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support a waiver of governmental immunity. Governmental immunity provides immunity from liability and immunity from suit. A trial court granted the City’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that there is a question of fact as to whether the City is liable for the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by the Officer.

Under Texas case law, municipalities such as the City in this case typically enjoy a “heavy presumption in favor of immunity.” The court of appeals characterized the question as whether the evidence creates a question of fact regarding the nexus or causal relationship between the Officer’s conduct and Bell’s accident and death.

Significantly, in this case, the court pointed out that the plaintiff failed to submit evidence regarding the City’s pleadings concerning jurisdiction (governmental immunity), even though it had the opportunity to do so. Furthermore, the court noted that the plaintiff did not present any probative evidence showing that the Officer negligently operated a motor vehicle and therefore caused the accident. Here, the court concluded that the Officer’s actions seem to be a condition that rendered the accident possible, rather than the actual cause of the accident. Based on these conclusions (among others), the court was unable to conclude that the trial court erred in granting the City’s jurisdiction plea and found that governmental immunity was not waived under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the City’s defense of governmental immunity was upheld. The court noted that the plaintiff failed to provide a response to the City’s jurisdictional claims. This case is a good example of the need to consult with a highly experienced injury attorney from the local Texas area – someone who is fully aware of the laws applicable to motor vehicle accident cases. Earl Drott is an injury attorney with more than 25 years of experience representing parties in motorcycle accident cases in the East Texas area. For a free consultation, call us at (903) 531-9300.

Related Blog Posts:

Texas Court Upholds Award of Damages for Multiple Categories in Car Accident Case

Texas Court Reviews Request for Death Benefits in Fatal Motor Vehicle Accident

Texas Court Allows Car Accident Negligence Case to Go Forward

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