Texas Tort Claims Act
Prior to adoption of the Texas Tort Claims Act a governmental entity such as the state, county, city, hospital district, and school district enjoyed “sovereign immunity” and could not be sued. People who were injured by the negligence of government employees in the performance of their governmental functions could not recover for their injuries. In 1969 Texas adopted the Texas Tort Claims Act. This law waived sovereign immunity in certain situations. Under the Tort Claims Act a governmental unit is liable for personal injury or death caused by the negligence of an employee acting within the scope of his employment only if:
- the injury or death arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment and the employee would be personally liable under Texas law.
- the injury or death was caused by the condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the government, if it were a private person, would be liable.
School districts and junior college districts are not liable unless the injury or death arises from the use of a motor vehicle.
- A city bus runs a red light and causes an accident and injuries. The city will be liable because the injury arose from a city employee’s operation of a motor vehicle in the performance of his governmental function.
- A doctor at a county hospital negligently fails to diagnose and treat appendicitis which results in a child’s death. The county will not be liable because the death was not caused by the condition or use of property and did not arise from the use of motor driven equipment or a motor vehicle.
- A public school cafeteria employee negligently serves spoiled food which causes mass food poisoning. The school is not liable because the injuries did not arise from the use of a motor vehicle.
- A person visiting a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles office is injured by a dangerous condition on the premises which the DMV employees knew about but did not repair or warn people about. The state will be liable because the injury was caused by the condition of real property and the state would be liable if it were a private person.
Limits on damages
The Tort Claims Act limits the amount of money that a governmental unit may be liable for. The maximum amounts that a person may recover for personal injuries are as follows: $250,000 from the state and municipalities and $100,000 from a “unit of local government” such as a county or county hospital.
Notice must be given
A governmental unit is entitled to receive notice of a claim against it no later than six months after the incident giving rise to the claim. The notice must contain certain information about the claim and incident. Notice does not have to be given if the governmental unit has actual notice of the injury or death. This notice is in addition to the two-year statute of limitations that generally applies to personal injury and wrongful death claims in Texas.