Car accident plaintiff failed to meet notice requirements of Tort Claims Act since County investigation of claim failed to reveal subjective awareness of fault

Jefferson County, Texas v. Luis Fernando Martinez Reyes, 09-18-00236-CV (Tex. App. – Beaumont, November 15, 2018).

This is a vehicle accident/Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case where the Beaumont Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the County’s plea to the jurisdiction based on formal written notice and dismissed the claims.

Reyes asserts a County employee, Flanagan, negligently drove a vehicle within the course and scope of his employment with the County and collided with his vehicle. Reyes’ attorney sent a letter less than two months after the accident to the County’s risk management advising of the collision. The County’s third-party administrator sent a notification letter the claim was received and was being handled. The County denied the claim within weeks. Reyes filed suit nearly two years later. The County filed a plea to the jurisdiction attacking compliance with notice provisions. The trial court denied the plea and the County appealed.

Reyes asserts he complied with Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §101.101 entirely, and substantially complied with Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §89.004(a), which is a notice statute for county claims. After analyzing the claim letter language, the court held the written letter sent to the County’s Risk Management Department did not include the requisite information as outlined in the TTCA notice provision §101.101(a). Specifically, the letter failed to provide a place description of the incident and failed to “reasonably describe” the incident. So formal written notice was not received. The court then analyzed whether the County had actual notice of the claim. Even though the County’s third-party claims administrator acknowledged receipt of the claim, that is insufficient. The County explained its “investigation failed to find any negligent conduct on the part of the County or its employees which proximately caused [Reyes’s] damages.” The evidence established the County failed to uncover any negligent conduct in its investigation. Therefore, it lacked the subjective awareness necessary for actual notice. As a result, the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice McKeithen, Justice Kreger and Justice Johnson. The attorneys listed for the County are Quentin D. Price and Kathleen M. Kennedy. The attorneys listed for Reyes are Dominique Boussac Bartholet, Christina Minshew Lewis and Corey Scott Gomel.

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