Tort claims are commonly known as injury claims wherein a person who suffered from damages or loss would file a lawsuit and the person responsible are obliged to make the victim ‘whole’. Tort claims are usually monetary compensation for damages encountered by the victim.
Lawsuits against the government or claims against government hospitals for negligence are most commonly forbidden by what is called “sovereign immunity”. The most common tort claims against the government are Legal Malpractice, Medical malpractice, or breach of Fiduciary duty. However, sovereign immunity is renounced in Texas where you can file a case under certain specific limited circumstances defined under The Texas Tort Claims Act.
The Act defines government as any agency or organization at either the state or a local level, including all state agencies and all departments, bureaus, boards, commissions, offices, agencies, councils, and courts.
Doctors since then became easier targets for lawsuits which led them to flee from Texas. But in 2003, a major tort reform bill passed which was meant to protect the entities by including caps on many personal injury lawsuits, with limits on punitive damages and medical malpractice lawsuits.
Liability is an important element that needs to be proven to validate the whole tort claim. It is a legal responsibility or obligation to do or make good while Civil liability is the term that is used when someone commits a tort (personal injury) and must face the consequences.
Tort claim indicators:
- You have to establish that someone has a duty and that they breached that duty to you.
- The breach resulted in harm or foreseeable damages.
- Causation – one incident leading to another incident that causes more harm or damage.
Intentional tortsThis is not an accident but an act that was committed with a clear plan and purpose of causing harm. It is applicable to a person or property.
Examples:Battery – Hurting a person through physical acts or by using an object. Assault – Threatening to commit battery, although no injury occurred. Defamation – Speaking lies about another person that results in some kind of harm.
Negligence tortsIt is the most common type of civil liability and can also be considered as accidents that occur when a person fails to take proper precautions.
Examples:Criminal negligence – when someone gets killed unintentionally. Like when a person is driving at top speeds while texting or when drunk. Civil negligence – When a person does not exercise due diligence in their responsibilities or acts less responsible than the normal or expected. Ex. The landlord who failed to replace the broken stair railings that then collapsed and injured the victim.
Strict liability tortsAutomatic liability for someone whose actions or product caused damage even if the incident was out of his control.
Examples:Product liability – if a product causes damage or injury because of defective design, the company will be held strictly liable even though they had no direct hand in the accident. Animal/ Pet owner liability – If an animal gets out of the house and bites someone while the owner is not present, the owner will be held liable.
Exceptions to the Texas Tort Claims Act
Just like any other lawsuit, there are always exceptions to any lawsuit. To better explain this, let us use a car accident as an example. If a person is hurt by a negligent driver, there is no liability on the part of the government under these situations:
Emergency Exception – the actions of a government employee while responding to an emergency call to an emergency situation, is immune from liability unless they acted with disregard for public safety.
Safety Officer Exception – designed to protect police officers and firefighters in the execution of their duties.
Intentional Injury or Intentional Tort Exception – there is no waiver of governmental immunity for a claim arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, or any other intentional tort. This exception has been upheld with assault by members of law enforcement. This exception does not apply to instances where the police officer did not intend to kill or injure the victim but rather was negligently supervised or trained in the execution of his duties.
When a tort is committed by the government, you may sue them but there are strict rules and notice requirements you must follow. The State of Texas is entitled to a “notice of claim” before anyone pursues a lawsuit. Meaning, The plaintiff must notify the governmental entity within 180 days of the incident providing the following information:
- Description of the damages incurred
- Suffered Injuries
- Identity of the parties injured
- The incidents that led to the injury
- Time, date and setting of the accident
The notice is a prerequisite or condition precedent, necessary to proceed with a lawsuit.
The Texas Tort Claims Act Limitations on Damages
There’s a maximum amount that the plaintiff may recover depending on what type of government unit is being sued. The state and municipalities allow up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per incident. All other levels of government allow for $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. There is no waiver of immunity for exemplary damages and does not apply to the government.
Who Benefits From Tort Reform?
Texas is a tort reform state which means It limits a person’s right to get full compensation for serious injuries, property damage, and loss of a loved one. This may sound devastating for the victims but one can also view it as a way to prevent the increase of frivolous lawsuits.
It aims to create a balance for the damage caps on medical malpractice suits in order to improve healthcare availability in Texas instead of scaring away health professionals and government employees. In return, support the economy by encouraging more people to invest, create businesses, and provide service in Texas.
This law is more favorable to insurance companies and many people may ask why tort reform is constantly undergoing changes. Although the tort reform seems unfair for the victims, there’s still a chance to get compensation. This is why it’s important to have an experienced personal injury lawyer if you care for your personal injury claim in Texas.