New Fort Worth Case: Supreme Court Caps Recovery for Death Caused By City Bus.
I filed a lawsuit last week against a school district whose loaded school bus driver crashed into my client’s vehicle.
The Texas Supreme Court just revisited the maximum damages that an injured person or the family of the deceased can receive in these cases.
The Texas Tort Claims Act places a $100,000 cap on the maximum damages if a local governmental vehicle (like a city or school bus) is involved.
The Supreme Court refused to raise that limit, even though different facts and statutes could have changed the results.
What happened in this case?
A Fort Worth woman was crossing the street downtown in 2010 when she was fatally struck by a Fort Worth Transportation Authority bus.
It was driven by a woman who worked for two independent contractors, not the local government agency.
The decedent’s daughter filed a wrongful death lawsuit jointly against the bus driver, the FWTA, and the two contractors.
She sued for damages of $300,000 ($100.000 from each of the three transit defendants) and an enormous sum from the driver.
Governmental agencies are usually immune from prosecution unless motor vehicles or personal property are involved and when they are, these damage caps protect them from high verdicts.
Government employees are shielded under the election of remedies where the injured person can only sue the employer.
The four defendants deposited $100,000 into the registry of the court and asked for the case to be dismissed.
How the courts ruled
The trial judge agreed with the defendants, holding that they were one single governmental unit, and gave the driver immunity. That limited the plaintiff’s recovery to $100,000.
However the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The Court found that the three defendants were separate entities, raising their damage exposure to $300,000, and that the driver also faced liability.
The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the damage cap was cumulative. The driver was entitled to protection. The plaintiff could only recover $100,000 from the defendants. The decision was split 5-3.
If the driver who struck the plaintiff had been working for a private company, the available damages would have been substantially higher.
Filing a Claim Under the Texas Tort Claims Act
If you have been injured by a motor vehicle operated by a government employee/contractor, what should you do?
The best advice is to hire a good personal injury lawyer. As you can see, these cases can be intricate and often go to trial and are appealed.
The attorney will research how the governmental unit is categorized, conduct a full-scale investigation, file suit if and when necessary, and try to find additional coverage.
Damages that can be recovered from a local government are limited to $100,000 per person/$300,000 per occurrence for bodily injury and $100,000 per occurrence for property damage. For claims against a state unit, the figures are $250,000 per person/$500,000 per occurrence for bodily injury and $100,000 per occurrence for damaged property.
Please contact us if you need help with your car, pickup truck, or 18-wheeler crash.