Texas Supreme Court holds TTCA cap on damages are jurisdictional and the plaintiff’s burden to establish which cap applies

Gulf Coast Center v Curry, 20-0856 (Tex. December 30, 2022) 

In this Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case, the Texas Supreme Court held the statutory caps on damages are not only jurisdictional but are the plaintiff’s burden to establish as part of establishing a waiver of immunity from suit.  

The Gulf Coast Center provides services for intellectual disabled individuals, including bus services. Curry was crossing the street when he was hit by such a bus driven by a Gulf Coast employee. Curry sued Gulf Coast for his resulting injuries. Following a trial, the jury found Gulf Coast negligent and awarded Curry $216,000. Curry sought judgment for the full amount. Gulf Coast objected asserting it was a “unit” of local government with a cap of $100,000.00. The trial court issued a judgment for the full amount. The First District Court of Appeals held the cap amounts were affirmative defenses and it was Gulf Coast’s obligation to establish which type of entity it was, and which cap applied. Since Gulf Coast did not ask for a jury question on the subject, Curry was entitled to the full judgment amount. Gulf Coast appealed.  

Section 101.023 of the TTCA limits the amount of a government’s liability by its statutory terms. The cap is different depending on the type of entity. Curry interprets this to mean that the damages caps relate solely to immunity from liability and not immunity from suit. However, § 101.025 states that immunity from suit is waived to the extent of liability created by the chapter. The Court held §101.023’s limitations of liability are not an affirmative defense but, rather, implicate the trial court’s jurisdiction by virtue of their incorporation in §101.025’s waiver of immunity from suit. Thus, a trial court must ascertain, as part of determining its jurisdiction, whether and to what extent the Tort Claims Act waives immunity from suit. Because the damages caps implicate jurisdiction, the Court concluded that the plaintiff has the burden to establish which cap applies. Curry did not satisfy his burden to prove that the $250,000 cap applies in this case as there was no evidence Gulf Coast was either a municipality or the state. Further, the Court held only the court can decide which cap applies, not the jury. There was also uncontroverted evidence that Gulf Coast was a community center and a unit of local government. Courts lack jurisdiction to render a judgment that exceeds the applicable damages cap under §101.023, and a plaintiff seeking recovery under the Tort Claims Act has the burden to prove which cap applies. 

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Huddle delivered the opinion of the Court.  

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