Accidents with Government Vehicles: Sovereign Immunity
Texas is an at-fault or tort state for car accidents. The person at fault for the accident is responsible for paying for resulting injuries and property damage sustained by other parties involved. Normally, if you were injured in a crash caused by another driver, you may have the option of filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or filing a lawsuit in civil court. Recovering compensation may not be as simple in a collision with a government vehicle because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
Understanding Sovereign Immunity
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine whereby a sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and has immunity from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution. It derives from monarchies in which the sovereign was the origin of the authority that created the courts, and therefore, the courts had no power to compel the sovereign to be bound by them. This rule was expressed in Latin as “rex non potest peccare,” meaning “the king can do no wrong.” The doctrine of sovereign immunity gives a ruling body of government the option to claim immunity from civil or criminal prosecution. In other words, no person may sue the government without the government’s consent.
There are two basic types of sovereign immunity:
- Qualified immunity: This shields government officials from liability for activities within the scope of their office, performed in objective good faith, which do not violate any clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would be aware.
- Absolute immunity: This makes government officials entirely immune from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, provided officials act within the scope of their duties. Absolute immunity is a complete bar to lawsuits. It generally applies to legislators, judges, prosecutors, jurors, and the highest executive officials of governments.
Exceptions to Sovereign Immunity
Under Texas law, the state may be sued only under limited circumstances as defined in the statute. The grounds for civil lawsuits are:
- Personal injury, death, or property damages arising from a state employee’s operation of a motor vehicle in the course and scope of his or her employment;
- Personal injury or death resulting from personal property conditions or use; and
- Injuries resulting from premises defects.
Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, injured parties may recover from the state for property damage, injury, or death in car accident cases up to certain caps— $250,000 per person, $500,000 per occurrence, and $100,000 for property damage. These caps may be lower for other government entities.
Legal Strategies for Pursuing Claims
You must give written notice to the entity involved to pursue a claim against the government. The State of Texas is entitled to notice of a claim within 180 days of the incident that gave rise to it. Under the Tort Claims Act, a trial court lacks jurisdiction to hear a case against the state without proper notice. This six-month time limit for the state may be even shorter for counties and municipalities. The notice must provide a description of the damage incurred or the injury suffered, the identities of the injured parties, the incident that led to the injury, and the time and place of the injury.
Call The Lenahan Law Firm for Legal Representation You Can Trust
The process for suing the government may be different from one entity to the next. If you have been injured in an accident with a government vehicle that was not your fault, it is in your best interests to speak with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
At The Lenahan Law Firm, we take on big cases and have a reputation for success. Our Dallas auto accident attorneys have been recognized by Best Lawyers, listed among Texas Super Lawyers, and awarded lifetime membership in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
Contact us at (214) 295-1008 to schedule your free consultation today.