How to Bring an Injury Claim or Lawsuit Against Government-Owned Trains or Railways in Texas
Everyone knows that an accident with a train can have devastating results. What most people do not realize is that the cause of action against a railroad company (and the procedure for recovering compensation) can vary dramatically if the railroad is owned by a governmental entity. Some railroads are owned and operated by state and local governments. Houston's METRORail and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) are examples of governmental entities that own light rail lines.
Another fact that most people do not know is that governments are almost completely immune from lawsuits. The State of Texas, its city and county governments are no exception to this fact. However, our lawmakers have drafted The Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) which waives the government's immunity under certain circumstances such that an injured party can seek compensation. Train accidents caused by negligence are one such scenario wherein you can sue the government.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What is the Texas Tort Claims Act?
- How do train accident cases work in Texas?
- What do I do if I've been injured in a train accident?
The Texas Tort Claims Act and Train Accident Cases
There are many scenarios in which the Texas Tort Claims Act applies, but as it relates to train accidents, the particular waivers of immunity that we are concerned with are those related to:
- The operation of a motor driven vehicle or motor driven equipment
- A premises defect
- Special defect
- Traffic control device.
In each of the above, the State of Texas has recognized the plaintiff's right to sue the government.
In practical terms, if the railroad that was involved in your injury was owned by the city or state, you will have special notice requirements (you are required by law to tell them that you intend to sue long before you sue them), and you face a damages cap. If the railroad is owned by the State or county government, then you must put them "on notice" in writing. The notice has to include the damage or injury claimed, the time and place of the incident, and a description of the incident itself.
In a claim against a municipality, you have to check the city charter or local ordinance for that city. The notice will more than likely include when, where, and how the injuries occurred, the extent of your injuries, the amount of money you will settle your claim for, your address at time claim was presented, your address for 6 months immediately before accident, and the name and contact info for any witnesses the you will rely upon. Another issue to keep in mind is that a lot of cities have notice requirements that are as short as 30 days. If you miss this window you will not have a case. Finding the right Dallas train attorney to navigate the special requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act is crucial to the success of your claim.
The Texas Tort Claims Act also imposes a damages cap (limit on how much compensation you can be awarded) for claims against governmental entities. This means that you will be limited on the amount that you can receive, even if your damages are significantly more than those limits. The limits vary depending upon what level of government you are suing. If your case involves suing the State or a City government, the Texas Tort Claims Act limits damages to $250,000.00 per person and a total of $500,000.00 per incident. If it is a County government, the Texas Tort Claims Act limits are $100,000.00 per person and a total of $300,000.00 per incident.
How does this work, practically speaking? If you are the lone victim of a state owned train accident, your maximum recovery is $250,000.00 even if your damages exceed this amount. For example, if you have $300,000.00 in damages, $250,000.00 is the maximum that you can receive. If there are 9 other people all of whom also have approximately $300,000.00 in damages, that would total $3,000,000.00 in total damages accumulated by all injured parties. Nevertheless, The State will be still only be limited to a maximum payout of $500,000.00. So if two of the ten victims receive payouts of $250,000, the maximum, there will be $0 left for you and the other 7 victims of the accident. This creates competition for the available funds between the injured parties.
In our example, it seems that since everyone had similar damages, it may make sense that, the court just divide the $500,000.00 maximum evenly. Everyone receives $50,000.00, everyone is shortchanged evenly. However, the courts do not necessarily work that way, and the odds of everyone having similar damages are not good. This can leave a quagmire as to who has the most right to the limited funds that are available. In the case where the county government is involved the only difference is the amount of money that is allowed under the damages cap. Hiring an attorney that can negotiate the damages cap, and will fight for every dollar you need with both the State and the other litigants, is of monumental importance in determining the outcome of your case. Obviously, those who do not have an attorney will find themselves getting the short end of the stick. Likewise, so will claimants who don't get their case started soon after the wreck.
Call Grossman Law Offices Today:
There are many complex issues when a train accident occurs. These issues are multiplied when the rail line is owned by a governmental entity. Many attorneys do not have the expertise to understand the complexity of these cases. Getting around the hurdles associated with the Texas Tort Claims Act can be difficult. If you need any help with your train accident case call us toll free at 855-326-0000.
Other articles about train accidents you might find helpful:
- Who Is Liable for a Train Derailment?
- The Dangers Posed by Obstructed View Railroad Crossings and the Law
- What Does the Federal Railroad Safety Act Do?