Suing the Government in a Texas Personal Injury Case


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Suing the government instead of a private actor in a personal injury case in Texas can be complicated. Special rules apply to the government that do not apply to others. It is important for accident victims to understand how these rules may impact their personal injury claim.

Sovereign Immunity Background

Sovereign immunity limits when a person can sue the state government in Texas for the actions of local, county or state employees or entities that cause personal injury or death. Sovereign immunity principles arose from the beginning of the American system of government, which largely adopted the legal system of England. This legal principle held that the king of the land was immune from lawsuits, which included the entirety of the government. This principle was largely at play during the beginning of the American formation of government. Because the government could not be sued, if a state employee killed a citizen due to his or her negligence, the victimís family had no legal recourse against the state.

Changes in Sovereign Immunity Law

The Texas legislature passed the Texas Tort Claims Act that modified rules regarding sovereign immunity. This law provided the opportunity for personal injury victims and their families to bring suit under the law when government employees or facilities were responsible for the injuries. However, specific criteria must be met before victims can take advantage of this law.

Proprietary Government Functions

Sovereign immunity does not apply when the government is conducting proprietary government functions. Governments perform governmental functions that every citizen benefits from, whether they are from the particular local community or not. For example, police services are available to people who travel from out of town to the community and then call the police when a problem occurs. Sovereign immunity typically applies to these functions and prevent lawsuits. However, if a government acts for the benefits of only locals, this is considered proprietary government functions and does not qualify as sovereign immunity.

Negligent Conduct

The first question is whether the state employee acted in a negligent way. This is some type of unreasonably safe manner that resulted in the victimís injuries. This is sometimes defined as a person acting in a manner that is contrary to the expected conduct of a reasonable, prudent person.

Types of Accidents

Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, there are only certain types of accidents that can result in a claim against the government without it being able to use sovereign immunity. Motor vehicle accidents can be brought pursuant to the Texas Tort Claims Act. This includes an inmateís misuse of a motor vehicle, traffic control devise issues and special defects on roadways. Other claims can be brought against the government when premises defects cause injury after a person pays to use the facilities, premises defects occur on real property that is used for recreational purposes or other premises defect issues. Another type of claim that can be brought under the Texas Tort Claims Act is the misuse of personal property. Generally, if a government employee would have been liable in an accident that did not involve the government, the government can be held responsible for the conduct of its employee.

Government Employee

For the Texas Tort Claims Act to apply, the negligent employee must be considered a government employee as defined under the statute. Independent contractors cannot claim immunity and therefore sovereign immunity and the Texas Tort Claims Act do not apply. This makes it easier for a lawyer to sue.

Notice Requirements

Many counties, cities and municipalities have strict notice requirements that a plaintiff must comply with before being able to sue the government. For example, in many areas in Texas, the claim must be presented to the government entity. The individual injured must explain the nature of the accident, the extent of his or her damages and a demand for payment. There are usually limited timelines by which the claim must be filed. For example, individuals only have 45 days from the date of the injury to bring forth their claim. The city may decide whether to accept a proposed settlement or may deny the claim. A lawyer can assist with this process.

Legal Assistance with Claims Against the Government

It can be difficult to sue the government. Often, additional procedural requirements serve as an impediment against suing the government. An experienced lawyer can help evaluate a claim against the government and determine what legal options may be available to the victim.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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