Injuries Caused by State or Local Governments

In our complex modern society, with many and varied governmental activities, employees working for governmental units often injure citizens through their negligence. A common example occurs when a government employee causes a motor vehicle collision.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that it has the prerogative to declare when "sovereign immunity" applies. "Sovereign immunity" means that the governmental unit is completely immune from bearing any responsibility for the damages it has caused, regardless of the degree of its fault or the amount of harm it caused. In other words, the entire loss is transferred from the government to the victim.

In 1969, the Texas Legislature passed a statute (called the "Texas Tort Claims Act") that-in limited circumstances and to a limited degree-waived sovereign immunity. That law is now located in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code, chapter 101.

An important feature of the Texas Tort Claims Act is the damages caps it imposes. Generally, judgments against units of local government, like the Metropolitan Transit Authority, are limited to $100,000, no matter how extensive are the damages. For instance, if, due to a wreck caused by a bus driver's negligence, the victim's medical bills exceed $750,000, MTA would not have to pay more than $100,000-the rest of the economic burden is imposed upon the victim, and he or she would receive no compensation whatsoever for his or her other damages, like pain and suffering, physical incapacity, and lost earnings. What's more is that this $100,000 cap for units of local government has not been revised since the first passage of the act. It has not been adjusted for inflation, which, in today's dollars would cap damages at $618,574. Thus, inflation gradually, and imperceptibly to many, transfers the risk of negligent behavior by government employees from the government to the victim. While the doctrine of sovereign immunity had its roots in the common law ("the king can do no wrong"), today the Supreme Court has candidly admitted that the Tort Claims Act in its selective and limited waiver of sovereign immunity, is designed to control the budget.

The Texas Tort Claims Act is grossly unjust to members of the public who are badly injured by governmental negligence, as well as to the survivors of those who are killed. It is time for the Texas Legislature to amend the law.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of negligence, contact an experienced attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1-800-594-4884.

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