Staff Reporter (2020 – 2021)
In Texas, the state government generally cannot be sued because it has sovereign immunity. However, the Texas Tort Claims Act provides some exceptions to that rule.
Sovereign immunity started in England in the Middle Ages. The idea behind sovereign immunity was that nobody could sue the King because he was the ruler of the country, and he was never wrong. When the United States broke away from England, our legal system kept the idea of sovereign immunity alive and applied it to our new state and federal governments.1
In 1847, the Texas Supreme Court officially decided that governments in Texas could not be sued without their consent.2 Various court cases upheld that idea until the 1960s. In the 1960s, Texas passed a law that enumerated the times when the state government in Texas could give consent to be sued.
Texas Tort Claims Act
In 1969, Texas passed the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), which governs when the state is no longer immune from liability for injuries.3
The TTCA outlines eight different situations when a citizen can get compensation from the state government: (1) accidents involving a motor vehicle; (2) misuse of personal property; (3) inmates misusing a motor vehicle; (4) injuries on city-owned properties; (5) injuries on defective roadways; (6) injuries caused by broken traffic controls; (7) injuries on city-owned property after you pay to use the property; and (8) injuries on city-owned property when you are participating in recreational activities.4
In any of those eight situations, the injured party must show that the injury was caused by the negligence of a government employee who was doing one of his/her job duties.5
Negligence arises in one of two ways: (1) a person does something that an ordinary person would not have done in a similar situation; or (2) a person does not do something that an ordinary person would have done in a similar situation.6
As an example, when a driver of a car approaches a stop sign, the ordinary response is to apply the brakes and stop at the stop sign. If John is driving down the road and hits the brakes to stop at the stop sign, he is not acting negligently. He has the ordinary response to a stop sign that other ordinary people have, which is to stop. However, if John comes to the stop sign and keeps driving, an action which causes him to hit another car, then John is negligent in that accident because he does not act like an ordinary driver and stop at the stop sign.
If an injured party can show that a Texas government employee was negligent while performing his/her job duties, the injured party may have a valid lawsuit against the state government.
Consult an Attorney if You Were Injured by a Government Employee
This article gives a high-level overview of sovereign immunity and the Texas Tort Claims Act. Every situation is different, and the facts and circumstances of your situation will dictate whether you can file a lawsuit against the state government. Consult an attorney if you believe you may be entitled to compensation as a result of a government employee’s negligence.
1 Legal Information Institute, Sovereign Immunity, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/sovereign_immunity.
2 Hosner v. De Young, 1 Tex. 764 (Tex. 1847).
3 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.001–101.109.
5 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.021.
6 Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co. v. Evans, 175 S.W.2d 249, 250–51 (Tex. 1943).