Accident report put City on actual notice of its fault in causing accident and injury

Melina Ortiz-Guevara v. City of Houston, 14-13-00384-CV (Tex. App. – Houston, April 22, 2014)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act case arising from a vehicle accident, but the case turns on whether or not the City had “actual notice” of its fault since the Plaintiff failed to provide formal written notice under the Act. The trial court granted the City’s plea to the jurisdiction but the 1st Court of Appeals reversed.

Officer Monroe rear-ended Ortiz-Guevara’s stopped car.  The investigating officer noted the sole cause was “failure to control speed” by Monroe. Ortiz-Guevara testified in her deposition that at the accident scene, she told both officers that she was injured even though she did not go to the hospital.  The accident report no injury. It is undisputed Ortiz-Guevara did not provide written notice of her claim. However, formal notice is not required if the City had actual notice of (1) the City’s fault; (2) Ortiz-Guevara’s injury; and (3) the identity of the parties.

The court analyzed the general law regarding notice and actual notice to a governmental entity. Actual notice of the alleged fault requires the governmental unit’s “subjective awareness of its fault, as ultimately alleged by the claimant, in producing or contributing to the claimed injury.” The City contends no jurisdiction exists because a “police report is no more than a routine safety investigation and is insufficient to provide actual notice of a claim.”  However the report at issue did more than imply fault, it specifically assigned fault noting it was his failure to control speed as the sole cause. Further, “fault” is construed as contributing to the injury, not the complete and exclusive liability for the injury.  Additionally, the City was aware Ortiz-Guevara was claiming an injury, or at the very least a fact question exists as to the City’s understanding of her claim of injury at the scene. As a result, the trial court erred in granting the plea. The case was reversed and remanded.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice McCally, Justice Busby and Justice Donovan. Opinion issued by Justice McCally. Attorney for Appellant Melina Ortiz-Guevara is Leonid Kishinevsky. Attorneys for Appellee City of Houston are L.A. Teehan and John Wallace.