Police and emergency vehicle crashes in Texas

Police and emergency vehicles are frequently involved in crashes.  Those wrecks often involve major impacts with significant injuries due to high speed, the size of the vehicle and because those wrecks typically occur at intersections.   When the at-fault driver is a government employee, special rules apply and the injury victim is generally required to pursue the claim under the Texas Tort Claims Act.

An injury victim involved in this type of crash needs to be keenly aware of the “notice” requirement of the Tort Claims Act in section 101.101.  The statute requires the governmental unit (e.g. Texas Department of Public Safety, fire department, etc.) be provided notice “not later than six months after the day” of the wreck.  Failure to provide timely notice may bar the victim’s right to make the claim for injuries and damages.  The victim should also be aware that each city’s charter may also contain notice requirements for city employees who cause wrecks; and those deadlines are typically much shorter than the six months allowed by the state Tort Claims Act statute.

Governmental entities tend to deny claims and/or to make very low settlement offers.  Therefore, the victim would be safe in assuming a lawsuit will be necessary.  The state, county or city has a legal department ready to fight the claim.  The state uses the Attorney General’s office.  Cities use their city attorney’s office.  So there is little cost to the government in fighting the claim.  The legal battles often involve an attempt by the governmental entity to have the victim’s case thrown out by summary judgment on the grounds that the police officer or emergency worker was performing a discretionary duty in good faith.  If they are successful, a court judgment is entered against the victim and the government pays nothing.

Tort Claims Act cases are complicated.  They often end up in the appeals court and can involve lengthy legal battles (e.g. Cordes v. Texas DPS).  It would be a mistake, in most cases, for the victim to attempt to resolve such a case without the assistance of an experienced lawyer familiar with the many hurdles and landmines contained in the state law.

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