When someone dies in an accident, those left behind are left with many lingering thoughts and feelings about how and why their loved one passed away. Why did this happen? How will we pay for our loved one’s medical bills and funeral costs?
In some situations, an East Texas wrongful death action may lie against the responsible party. Such cases should be pursued as soon as possible, given that evidence can quickly disappear, and there are deadlines that must be followed. In cases involving governmental entities, there may also be other requirements, such as the giving of notice of a claim.
Facts of the Case
In a recently decided case, the plaintiff brought suit individually and as the next friend of a minor who died while crossing the street. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant school district was liable for the minor’s death because a bus driver had activated the flashing warning lights of a school bus, thus indicating that it was safe for the minor to cross an expressway. (The lawsuit also named the driver of the vehicle that struck and killed the child as a defendant.)
The school district filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, arguing that it was immune from suit as a governmental entity. While acknowledging that in some circumstances, a branch of the government may be liable in tort to someone injured by an act of negligence, the school district urged that its immunity was not waived under the Texas Tort Claims Act because the accident did not arise out of the “operation or use of a motor vehicle” and that the plaintiff failed to give proper notice as required by the statute. The trial court denied the school district’s plea to the jurisdiction.
Decision of the Texas Court of Appeals
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the school district’s plea to the jurisdiction. With regard to the notice issue, the plaintiff maintained that formal written notice was not required because the school district had actual notice of the minor’s death, including the time, place, and circumstances of his death. The court agreed that, in light of a recording of the bus driver showing that he was “subjectively aware” of his own potential fault in the accident, there was at least a factual issue regarding notice, such that the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion was proper.
The court also ruled in the plaintiff’s favor on the issue of whether the case involved the “operation of” a motor vehicle, deciding that stopping a bus and activating the bus’ warning light in order to pick up a passenger were “practical, purposeful actions… encompassed within… ‘operation’ and ‘use’ of a motor-driven vehicle.”
Contact an Experienced East Texas Car Accident Attorney
Losing a loved one is never easy, but it can be especially difficult to accept when another person’s negligence or reckless conduct is to blame. If you believe that your loved one’s death resulted from negligence by another person, a business, or a governmental entity, you should talk to an attorney about filing a claim against the responsible party. East Texas wrongful death attorney Earl Drott offers a free consultation regarding your claim in Tyler, Smith County, or the surrounding area. Call 903-531-9300 to schedule an appointment.
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