Government vehicles, such as police cars and firetrucks, are commonly found at the scene of an accident, but what happens when government vehicles are actually responsible for causing an accident?
In the past, you would be out of luck because the government was immune personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Until recently, the government was protected by a safety blanket called the Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity. Under this ancient doctrine, any governmental unit and its sub-parts were exempt from lawsuits involving accidents or personal injury caused by government employees. The idea behind the doctrine comes from a time when leaders, such as kings, felt that were above the law and any grievances their subjects may have had against them.
Luckily, lawmakers banded together with the dream of righting the scales of justice, and the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) was born. The TTCA allows for sovereign immunity to be waived when an employee of the government engages in certain types of wrongful conduct. In this article, we'll explain how you can use the TTCA to hold cities, counties, the state, or other governmental entities liable for injuries and fatalities stemming from car accidents.
Questions answered on this page:
- How does the law apply to vehicular accidents involving government employees?
- What types of vehicles are considered government vehicles?
- If a government vehicles is involved in an accident, how much money can a victim get?
- Are you allowed to sue ambulance, fire trucks, police cars, garbage trucks, etc.?
Your rights and remedies change dramatically depending on who the vehicle belongs to.
Under the TTCA, when you sue the government, there are different rules that apply depending upon the type of governmental entity that you are suing. For instance there are certain steps you must take when you sue the city that don't apply when you sue the state. Naturally, the first step in a case involving a government owned vehicle is to identify which category of governmental entity owns the vehicle. The three categories are:
- The State - including all of the states regulatory agencies, bureaus, etc.
- Municipalities - any city or town and their various committees, agencies, etc.
- Local Governmental Units - includes counties, school boards, water boards, county hospitals, etc.
- Emergency- Service Organization - This is a needlessly confusing term, but it is the language used by lawmakers when they passed the TTCA. When you hear the name emergency-service organization, you think of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. But usually those vehicles are owned by a county or city. So, what ESO really stands for are the other ESO who are not operated by another governmental entity, such as, volunteer fire departments.
Even though you reserve the right to sue all those entities, in the event that one of their employees causes an accident and injures you, the way you sue them and the amount you can sue them for is different for each organization.
How does the law apply?
Essentially, the TTCA allows individual's who are harmed by government employees through the negligent use of a motor vehicle to seek compensation from the governmental entity that harmed them.
In order to have a valid claim against the government, you have to prove all of the following:
- The person who injured you was working within the scope of employment for the government when operating the vehicle. Essentially, the incident occurred while the employee was officially on-the-clock.
- The person who injured you owed you a duty not to inflict harm on you.
- Your injury was proximately caused by the use of a motor vehicle
- This is the type of accident that the driver would have been liable for had they struck you with their personal vehicle.
- There are no exceptions to the waiver of immunity. In other words, you have to show that your particular incident is the kind for which immunity should be waived. For example, a claim of "failure to use" a motor vehicle that lead to an individual's injury cannot be used as a claim under the TTCA.
- You have to provide proper notice. All of the entities require you to provide notice that you are suing them, and they each have their own requirements. Cities are very particular because their requirements are outlined in the city charters, and the notice requirements are different for every city in Texas.
Even though there are a lot of different elements you must prove in order for your claim to be valid, most of these elements are easy enough to prove with the help of an attorney.
With Sovereign Immunity Waived, What Compensation Can I Get Paid?
There are many types of damages, or compensation, that can be awarded to a victim based upon the the losses they sustained. For example, in cases where a victim was injured the victim can recover damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical bills, etc. In the case of a wrongful death, the victims family can sue for loss of consortium, loss of society, loss of companionship, etc.
The same damages apply in cases against the government. However, the total amount you can recover is capped.
The chart below summarizes the damage caps for each government entity under the TTCA along with the possible vehicles that could apply.
Bodily Injury or Death
|Marked automobiles, trucks, tractors, etc.||School Bus, dump trucks, utility trucks, public transportation vehicles, etc||City marked automobiles, police vehicles, snow plows, tractors, etc.||Fire trucks, ambulances, SWAT vans, Care flight helicopters, etc.|
The amount that your case is capped by depends on the governmental unit you are suing. To make matters a little trickier, there is a per person cap and a per occurrence cap. Let's illustrate that with an example. Imagine that Bob, Susan, and Steve are driving down the road when their vehicle is side-swiped by a school bus driver. All three of them sustain very serious injuries. Let's assume that the damages cap that applies to this situation is $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. Imagine that all three of the injured persons has $200,000 in losses. Each of their individual losses are worth more than the $100,000 per person limit, and the aggregate of all their claims is more than the per occurrence limit. No matter how you slice it, none of the three will be able to get full compensation due to the damages caps.
If a victim is involved in an accident with a government vehicle, a lawyer is helpful in proving the necessary elements needed to have the government's immunity waived. Without one, a victim may find himself lost within the labyrinth of the law. Call our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys at 1-855-326-0000 (toll free) to discuss what options you have.