April 7, 2021
The King can do no harm. This was the legal protection, called Sovereign Immunity, that European nations applied for a King to avoid any legal liability. Under normal circumstances, if a person causes harm to another, that person would be legally liable for any damages caused. However, when a King would act in the same way and cause the same harm, he would not be liable simply because he is King. The only hope in that situation would be for the King to lend a helping hand, on his own accord.
You may be asking yourself, why should I care about this today? This is significant today because Sovereign Immunity (Governmental Immunity), even in the 21st century, still exists. It does not exist in the absolute form as it did historically, but Government entities and agencies do reserve sovereign immunity in some form. The reasoning behind this legal protection is to shield the Government from lawsuits that would take their attention from their duties in serving the public and, perhaps more importantly, shield the Government from lawsuits that would be costly to their taxpayer funds.
If you are harmed by the Government, like with a King, the Government must permit you to sue them. Otherwise, the Government can claim Governmental Immunity and absolve themselves from any liability even if they are at fault. In Texas, when you suffer a personal injury, your main source of recourse is via the Texas Torts Claims Act (TTCA).
Governmental Immunity is waived under the TTCA for injuries arising out of the Government's use of a motor vehicle or a premises liability. The TTCA is a lengthy statute and is litigated heavily. As one can imagine, there are exceptions to the exceptions that create many ways for the Government to escape liability. Aside from exceptions, many enumerated actions are exempt from the statute. To top it all off, if an incident manages to qualify and defeat Immunity, there is a cap to the liability. Depending on the case the cap could be for $100,000 to $250,000 per person but no more than $300,000 to $500,000 per incident. This may seem like enough to cover a potential incident but remember what a Government agency may be doing. Imagine being rear-ended by one of those big electric trucks or a city bus. Such an accident can easily cause damages that can quickly exceed the caps.
To file suit under the TTCA a strict notice requirement must be followed. The TTCA requires notice of a claim to be delivered to the governmental unit no later than six months after the incident. However, some municipalities may require this notice to be delivered no later than 90 days after an incident. It is best to play it safe and send out a notice as soon as possible after any incident that may lead to liability under the TTCA.
If you are injured because of a premises defect, then the governmental unit only owes the duty that a private person owes a licensee on private property. To clarify a bit, for injuries arising from defects in the property (think slip and fall cases) there are two types of claimants, an Invitee, and a Licensee. The main difference between the classifications is that of knowledge. As a licensee, someone you invite to your home, the property owner must protect of defects that they know exist. As an invitee, someone who enters a store to shop, the property owner must protect of defects that they know or should know exist.
This limitation of duty does not apply to special defects. With special defects, the government unit owes the duty that a private person owes an invitee. A special defect is a defect such as excavations or roadway obstructions. What exactly is an excavation or a roadway obstruction? This is where Attorneys come in and start getting creative. As stated earlier there has been extensive litigation on this matter.
The other instance you can defeat immunity under the TTCA is for injuries arising out of operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment. You would think this section is easier to apply. However, what operation or use is as it is applied to the TTCA has been heavily litigated. What qualifies as a motor has been litigated. What is motor-driven equipment has been heavily litigated.
On top of that, there are exceptions to this section. A commonly used exception is the emergency use exception. This applies to emergency vehicles, such as police cruisers and ambulances, when they are being operated in an emergency. Under this exception, the governmental unit is not liable for injuries so long as the operator does not act in a manner that they knew or should have known poses a high degree of risk of serious injury. And yes, you can guess that this has been heavily litigated.
If you are injured and the TTCA may be applied, you want to make sure to contact an attorney with experience with the TTCA. I have had the opportunity to litigate several cases involving the TTCA and the equivalent federal statute the FTCA (Federal Torts Claims Act). I have argued in front of the 13th Court of Appeals and been part of a team that argued in front of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Anytime you are injured because of an accident call an attorney with the experience necessary to get you results. Call an attorney who will fight for you in front of an appeals court if necessary. Call my office I will be with you to the end to make sure you are fairly compensated for your injuries.