The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) performed sign maintenance work on I-35 recently, which forced many commuters to seek alternate routes as lanes were closed on Eisenhauer Road. All appeared to go well, with lanes reopening on schedule, but there were certainly enough honking commuters to infer that the closure caused problems. This type of maintenance is critical, despite the potential issues it may cause – obviously because road breakdowns cause problems, but also because failure to fix those breakdowns can put governments and other state entities like TxDOT on the proverbial hook for liability in the event of an accident.
More Than One Cause for Accidents
While the majority of car accidents can be ascribed, at least in part, to driver error, there are some incidents where neither driver may be at fault. Unforeseen road condition problems are recognized under Texas law as being grounds for liability, usually on the part of the state government or that of a city or town. Examples include potholes, construction zone-related issues, failure to prepare roads for inclement weather, faulty or absent guardrails, and missing or unusable signs or signals. In some rare cases, the design of the roadway itself (its overall visual plan) may be grounds for liability if a pattern of traffic crashes emerges there.
In most cases, a government entity has a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the roads that fall under their jurisdiction. If they fail in that duty of reasonable care, the rationale is that they may then be held liable for any damages that occur as a result. This is a common-law theory still honored by Texas law. However, it is not unheard of that a private contractor may be responsible, especially in cases involving construction zones. In these cases, private contractors may be sued under a theory of premises liability. Bringing suit against a governmental entity is a different matter.
Texas Tort Claims
If you believe that your accident was due to negligent conduct on behalf of a governmental entity, such as TxDOT, you will need to first determine whether or not it is possible to bring suit against that entity or the government itself. Texas, along with many other states, has laws which render it immune from some types of lawsuits – the rationale is that if the government had to defend itself from every single suit citizens brought, there would be no time or personnel left to govern. This doctrine is called sovereign immunity. However, in 1985, the state legislature passed what is referred to as the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), which allowed citizens to the sue the state and its subsidiaries on certain specific bases.
If you look into the TTCA, you can see that while sovereign immunity is waived for such lawsuits, it is waived with an important caveat – namely that if a suit arises from a “premise defect” on a toll highway, road, or street, the government does not owe the common-law duty of reasonable care. It only owes the duty that a private actor would owe to a licensee. This means that unlike under the common law, when the government would have had a responsibility to make the road as safe as possible, the law only requires that the government warn of any potential dangers. If there is a warning sign, for example, that is considered sufficient to meet the governmental burden in most cases.
Ask an Experienced Attorney for Help
Any auto accident can be a difficult and time-consuming thing to get through, but if a government or its contractor is implicated, it can make the process even more complex. If you have been in an accident due to poor road or sign maintenance, contacting the skilled New Braunfels car crash lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm can be the first step to getting your life back on track. Contact our office today at 888-392-0039 to schedule a free consultation.