Volunteer Fire Department Exempt from Suit for Alleged Negligence in Fatal Motorcycle Accident Under Texas Tort Claims Act

Most east Texas motorcycle accidents are caused by the negligent or reckless conduct of an individual – a motorist, a truck driver, a motorcyclist, etc. However, some motor vehicle collisions may be caused by other entities, including the government (or government employees).

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to pursue fair compensation when one of the defendants in an personal injury or wrongful death case is the government or a government employee. While it is not necessarily impossible in every case, it certainly does present some additional challenges beyond what would be necessary to prove liability against a more typical defendant.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case (Eleventh Court of Appeals of Texas; No. 11-16-00304-CV), the plaintiffs sought compensation for the wrongful death of two individuals who died in a motorcycle accident that they alleged was caused by the negligence of members of the defendant volunteer fire department, who parked a brush truck across an interstate highway in an attempt to divert traffic due to a wreck. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, claiming that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by governmental immunity. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion and rendered judgment in its favor, holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act. Under Texas law, sovereign immunity and governmental immunity protect both the state and its political subdivisions from lawsuits and liability from damages in all cases in which such immunity has not been deliberately abrogated by the legislature. While the Act provides a limited waiver of immunity for some of those hurt by the government’s negligence, only lawsuits that fall within certain narrowly defined circumstances may proceed.

The court determined that there were essentially three issues to be decided:  1) was the defendant a governmental unit that was entitled to immunity under the Act; 2) did the defendant conclusively establish that the individuals who allegedly caused the accident by placing the truck on the interstate were not “employees” of the department; and 3) did the Act waive immunity for the defendant if the individuals were not its employees.

In reviewing the evidence presented by the defendant in its summary judgment motion in the court below, the appellate court found that the defendant was an all-volunteer fire department and was thus a governmental unit that was entitled to governmental immunity under the Act; that the individuals who placed the truck on the interstate were volunteers, rather than employees of the defendant; and that § 101.062(b) of the Act did not expand the waiver of immunity afforded the defendant under § 101.021 (as argued by the plaintiffs in their attempt to hold the defendant liable for their loved ones’ wrongful deaths).

Get Help with Your East Texas Injury Case

Losing a family member due to another person’s negligence is one of life’s most painful experiences. While the hurt never completely goes away, it may be possible to alleviate some of the financial strain of a wrongful death in some cases. If you have lost a family member in an east Texas motorcycle accident, truck wreck, or car crash, Earl Drott Law is here to help. To set up an appointment to discuss your Smith County or Tyler accident case, call us at 903-531-9300.

Related Blog Posts:

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

Texas Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Case Alleging a Negligent Failure to Repair a Motorcycle Caused a Fatal Accident

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