Dallas Court of Appeals holds City’s immunity waived when manhole cover flipped up and struck motorist

City of Saginaw, Texas v. Brandon Cruz, 05-19-01141-CV, (Tex. App – Dallas, Aug. 27, 2020)

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction in a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case where the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The City had contractors working on widening a roadway.  With partial construction complete, the City opened a portion of the road.  The day the roadway portion opened, Crus started driving on the road when  a manhole cover flipped open in front of him after the preceding car drove over it.  Cruz was injured and filed suit. During litigation, the City responded to admissions, but later discovered the admissions were incorrect and based on an incomplete copy of the construction contract.  The City moved to amend its admissions and filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The City appealed.

The court agreed with the City that the only potential claim would be a premise liability claim and thereafter dismissed Cruz’s general negligence claims. Although the TTCA imposes different standards of care depending on whether the condition is a premises defect or a special defect, the City did not contest in its plea whether the manhole cover constituted a premises defect or a special defect. Cruz had only to prove that Saginaw had constructive knowledge of any alleged special defect. While the City attempted to limit the time frame of the defect to when the preceding car caused the cover to flip up, the court found the City could have and was alleged to have constructive knowledge the manhole was not affixed property and therefore constituted constructive knowledge of a special defect. While the City argued it could not have discovered the problem with the manhole as it did not control the construction site, the contract reserved the City’s right to enter and inspect the work. Further, the City’s admissions admitted a certain level of control consistent with the contract. The admissions the City sought to amend concerned the City’s control over the manhole cover and contractor work.  After analyzing the timing of the admissions and motion to amend, and noting other admissions also establish control over the site, the court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to amend admissions.

Justice Schenck’s dissent held the record contains no evidence of the nature of the defect, actual knowledge of the defect, how long the defect existed, or that a reasonable inspection would have discovered the defect. The majority opinion equates to the City being strictly liable for the alleged defect, which is contrary to the law.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Schenck, Partida-Kipness, and Nowell. Affirmed. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Partida-Kipness. Dissenting Opinion by Justice Schenck can be found here. Docket page with attorney information can be found here.