While you or your client are driving on a Texas roadway, a police officer rams into your car in pursuit of a suspect during a high-speed police chase. At the scene, the police officer inspects the significant damage to your car, apologizes, and even admits that you are not at fault for the damage. The officer even goes so far as to say that the City should pay for the damage. What should you do?
First, a little background. In Texas, municipalities, or any governmental entity, generally have “sovereign immunity” from law suits. As a result, there are strict guidelines to follow when suing a municipality, i.e. the government. One such guideline is the six month notice requirement under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA).1 Additionally, a city’s charter usually has a notice of claim requirement. For Houston, the notice requirement is 90 days. It is the same in San Antonio.
If you miss the notice requirement, you cannot bring a claim. Period.
Just last month, the Texas Supreme Court considered a case with similar facts as our hypothetical in City of San Antonio v. Tenorio. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and stated that the City of San Antonio did not have the required notice of claim.
The Texas Supreme Court said that it did not matter that the police officer, as government employee, had knowledge of the accident. It did not matter that the police officer’s police report described the accident in detail and informed the police department. It did not matter that there were eyewitness statements. In fact, there is no notice even if the government “(1) should have investigated an accident as a prudent person would have, (2) investigated an accident as part of its routine safety procedures, or (3) should have known it might have been at fault based on its investigation.”2
According to Texas law, notice is satisfied only when the governmental entity has “subjective knowledge of (1) a death, injury, or property damage; (2) the governmental unit’s fault that produced or contributed to the death, injury, or property damage; and (3) the identity of the parties involved.”3
In other words, the municipality has to be notified that it was at fault in causing the accident.
If you plan on filing suit against a municipality, start with the notice requirement. If you don’t, it might already be too late.
1 TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 101.101(a).
2 Cathey v. Booth, 900 S.W.2d 339, 347-48 (Tex. 1995).