On the night of September 17, a truck crash pulled power lines down all across Bee Caves Road, closing the road and causing a power outage up and down Loop 360. While there were complaints about traffic blockages, the road remained closed until the middle of the day on Tuesday, the 18th, with Austin Energy and law enforcement wanting to ensure a thorough job was done on both the accident investigation and the repairs. It is to their credit that this was done because any failure could have opened both the company and the City of Austin to liability for injuries if any had resulted from the downed power lines.
Hard to Sue Governmental Entities
Normally, if someone is injured in an accident where the cause is traceable to another person’s (or company’s) negligence, the injured person would sue the other in civil court. However, governmental entities are a different matter, because they enjoy protection – and sometimes, complete immunity – from civil suits by residents of the state, under a principle called sovereign immunity. Both Austin Energy and the Texas Department of Transportation are publicly owned entities, which means that they are part of local and state governments, and would thus be covered by Texas’ sovereign immunity laws. Sovereign immunity law is based on the idea that if every citizen wronged by the state were permitted to sue, the state would have neither time nor money enough to govern.
Thus, in a state where sovereign immunity was total, someone who was injured as a result of the downed power lines might allege that Austin Energy did not work hard enough or fast enough to correct the problem, thus leading to their injury, and the state might conceivably have to pay damages. However, if someone truly was injured in such a fashion and the suit was denied, the injured person might be stuck with thousands in medical bills. Neither is an optimal situation.
As a halfway measure between total chaos and a total ban on suing the state, Texas adopted the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), which is a localized version of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The TTCA carves out specific exceptions under which a person may bring suit against the state, though the exceptions are extremely specific. Texas courts can also be quite particular, so if your case is borderline or there is room to disagree, you may be turned away from bringing suit for your injuries.
The most important criteria to determine whether or not one may bring suit against the state are (1) that the state’s employee must have acted in a way that would have been negligent even if they had not been a government employee; and (2) the type of accident you experienced must be listed in the TTCA as one of those excepted from the sovereign immunity doctrine. There are eight types of accidents that are listed as exceptions to sovereign immunity – in this scenario, the most relevant would be vehicle-related accidents and accidents involving “premises defects.” If power lines are knocked down and remain down long enough to cause injury, it is reasonable to think that such an event would meet the exception in most cases. However, this only means you could sue – it says nothing about whether a jury would allow you to prevail.
Call an Experienced Attorney Today
Cases involving potential governmental liability can be extraordinarily complex, and it is a good idea to have a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer on your side if your accident involves these types of questions. The skilled New Braunfels personal injury attorneys at the Bettersworth Law Firm have seen quite a lot in their years of practice, and are happy to try and help give guidance on how best to proceed with your case.