If you are injured by another party that acted negligently, you have the right to pursue a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. Usually, the other party (the entity that acted negligently) is a business or individual. In these cases, your rights are clear.
However, do you know what happens if someone suffers an injury that is caused by the government or someone who is acting on the government’s behalf? This is a unique situation, and, therefore, different laws apply.
Keep reading to learn more about the options you have when it comes to making a claim against the government.
The Texas Tort Claims Act and Sovereign Immunity
For several decades, Texas tort law was regulated by sovereign immunity, which is a legal doctrine. It originated from the early days of American law and was influenced by the relationship the nation had with the legal system in England.
Put simply, sovereign immunity states that the ruler of a land is unable to be sued. What this means is that any survivor of an accident caused by officials in the state or on the federal level has minimal options to recover compensation or damages.
The Texas Tort Claims Act was passed in 1969 by the state. Under this law, sovereign immunity was modified and allowed individuals who suffered a personal injury the chance to file a lawsuit against the government in Texas to recover damages.
However, there are requirements set by the law that an individual must meet if they want to file a lawsuit against a government entity. What this means is that the Act ensures that you can only sue the government for situations that involve a motor vehicle being driven by a government official or for accidents that occur on government-owned land.
For the government to be considered liable, the Texas Tort Claims Act requires the following:
The party must have been acting within their assigned employment when an accident took place.
The injuries, death, and property damage had to have occurred while the government agent was operating a motor vehicle.
The party can be considered liable for an accident if they were not working as a government agent.
Under the Act, the government can also be sued for premises liability cases, but only if an injury or death took place on government property and if a person would be considered liable for the accident based on Texas law.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations in Texas for Suing the Government
Usually, a person has two years from when the injury occurred to file a personal injury claim against a non-government entity in Texas. When it comes to seeking damages from the government, though, this amount of time is much shorter. In fact, you typically have just six months from when the accident occurred to notify the government department of your intentions to sue. (Always speak directly to an attorney to understand the exact deadlines that apply to your potential claims.)
When you provide notice of your intentions, it has to include:
The date when the accident or incident occurred
The location of the accident or incident
Injuries and damages the accident or incident caused
A detailed description of what happened.
In some situations, a municipal government has an even shorter time limit to provide a notice of claim. For example, in Houston, there is a 90-day limit, but in Austin, the time limit is just 45 days. Even if you don’t know whether the statute of limitations has expired in your case, it’s smart to contact our legal team at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law by calling (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000 to protect your rights.
Understanding Damage Limitations
Based on the Texas Tort Claims Act, Section 101.023, the maximum amount of compensation a person can recover depends on the government unit that is being sued.
The city and state governments have limitations of up to $250,000 for each person and $500,000 for each incident. The other government levels allow for only $100,000 for each person and $300,000 for each incident.
When you file a lawsuit against a government entity, exemplary (punitive) damages are not allowed. That’s because there’s no waiver of immunity for these.
Making Claims Against the Federal Government
The above information applies to the state of Texas and filing a lawsuit against city or state entities.
When it comes to the federal government, it is the Federal Tort Claims Act that outlines the situations when you can file a lawsuit against a federal government entity for injuries. This is an extremely complex law and lays out very specific situations where you will be allowed to file a lawsuit against the federal government.
Sometimes, the specific circumstances related to your case will exclude it, limit it, or be an exception to the rule. However, you do have the right to sue when these circumstances are present:
The lawsuit is being filed against a federal employee rather than an independent contractor that has been hired by the federal government.
The employee was working within their scope of employment when your injury occurred.
The negligence of the employee resulted in your injury. While there are some limited cases where you can file a lawsuit for intentional cases of misconduct, usually negligence will be the only basis for you to file a lawsuit against a federal government agent or entity.
The claim must be allowed based on the laws in Texas (or where the negligence took place).
Before you file a lawsuit against a federal government entity or agent, you must file a claim with the federal agency that was involved in the injury. It’s best to file the claim as soon as you can so that you can avoid issues related to waiting too long to file it. Usually, you will have two years from the date of the injury to file a claim.
After the claim has been filed, the agency has six months to respond to it. If they refuse to compensate your claim, then you have six months from the time that the agency mailed their response in which to file your lawsuit. You will not be allowed to file a lawsuit before the end of the agency’s six-month response window. With this in mind, the time limit for you to file a lawsuit will not start until the agency has responded.
Common Questions About Suing Government Entities in Texas
Along with the information above, there are common questions that many people have about suing government entities. Some of these are answered here.
Do you have the right to sue fire or police for negligence during an emergency response situation?
Based on the Texas Tort Claims Act, your right to take legal action against an emergency responder is extremely limited. If the state agent is responding properly to an emergency call or situation and they do not act with reckless disregard or conscious indifference for others’ safety, then there is no waiver of sovereign immunity and you cannot bring a claim against them.
These laws help to protect the government from liability for government-owned and operated ambulances and the police who are involved in an accident while they are responding to an emergency situation in good faith.
What agencies are considered to be governmental entities?
A better way to describe most governmental entities is to call them “public” entities. This is a category that includes virtually all operations that are funded using taxpayer money. Today, public entities include fire departments, police departments, bus companies, hospitals, public schools, and other institutions that are publicly funded.
If your child is injured, do you have the right to file a lawsuit against the public school where the injury occurred?
In some circumstances, you do have this right. The authorities at the school are tasked with the duty of supervising the conduct of children while on school property. If you can show that the injury your child sustained was the result of the public school’s not properly supervising them, it may be possible to file a lawsuit against the school district.
For cases that involve molestation or sexual harassment, plaintiffs usually must prove that the school district knew or should have known that the student was being harassed or abused by an employee or teacher or that there was a danger to the student and the school did not take the necessary steps to protect them.
Can you file a lawsuit if you are injured because of a hazardous condition on public property?
It is possible to file a lawsuit in these situations if you can prove the following:
The property was in a dangerous or hazardous condition when your injury occurred.
Your injury was a result of the dangerous or hazardous condition.
The dangerous or hazardous condition created a risk of injury that was reasonably foreseeable.
The dangerous condition was created by the omission or wrongful act of a public employee.
The public entity was notified of the condition and had time to take steps to prevent issues, but did not take the necessary steps.
Hazardous conditions for public property situations will usually fall into one of two categories:
Situations where a person falls, trips, or injures themselves in some way on a crosswalk, sidewalk, or another public area
Cases where a dangerous roadway leads to or contributes to an accident.
What does it mean if a public entity has immunity from lawsuits being filed against them?
When looking into a liability for a public entity, immunity means that, based on the law, the public entity is not responsible for wrongful or negligent acts even in situations where this wrongful conduct resulted in an injury to the plaintiff.
There are numerous types of immunities that could apply to your situation and case. Because of this, it’s recommended that you talk to an attorney early on to ensure that your case is not restricted by these.
Is it possible to file a lawsuit against a correctional officer or police officer who causes an injury?
Rarely is this possible. Correctional and police officers are considered immune from liability in most situations if they act within the scope and course of their employment. There are some exceptions to this umbrella immunity. One example is when a correctional officer or police officer violates a person’s civil rights. Another example is if a police officer or correctional officer injures someone in a car accident, but even then it is almost always impossible to sue public entities if the injuries are caused by some type of high-speed chase situation or if the vehicle that is owned by a public entity is in an emergency response situation.
What are your options if you are injured by an operator of some public entity vehicle, like a bus? Do you have the right to sue?
The answer to this question is “yes.” An operator of a public vehicle (other than police or emergency), such as a bus, owes others the same duty of care when behind the wheel.
Also, since a bus is also considered a “common carrier,” the public entity has a higher duty of care to the passengers, which makes a case that involves an injury to passengers on a bus much easier to win than cases against another motorist.
Our Legal Team Is Here to Help with Your Case
There’s no question that the laws related to filing a lawsuit against a government entity are complex. We are here to help ensure you get the justice you deserve and that you meet all the requirements necessary to file a claim.
The first step in securing our legal help is to get in touch with the legal team at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law by calling (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000. We can review the facts of your case and ensure you receive justice for your situation. We have years of experience handling cases in this area of the law and will work to protect your rights while helping you recover the compensation you are owed for an injury caused by a government entity.
Terry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]