Accident report was insufficient to establish actual knowledge of potential claim under Tort Claims Act says Texarkana Court of Appeals

Texas Department of Transportation v. Haley Brown 06-15-00090-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana March 22, 2016)

This interlocutory appeal arises from the denial of the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT’s) plea to the jurisdiction regarding Haley Brown’s claims for personal injury in which the Court of Appeals reversed the denial and dismissed Brown’s car accident claims.

Brown was driving in a construction zone when she “collided with an unmarked, un-barricaded construction machine that was parked in the right hand lane of the highway.” She claimed that the barricade drums placed “between two lanes” failed to indicate which lane was closed. Brown sued TxDOT and its contractors. TxDOT asserted Brown did not file the statutory notice within 6 months of the accident. Brown asserted TxDOT had actual notice of the claim. The trial court denied the plea and TxDOT appealed.

Brown first attempts to argue she provided statutory notice based on a 2013 Public Information Act letter opinion from the Attorney General’s office.  However, that opinion had to do with another claim by another individual, did not list Brown at all and is therefore not sufficient. For TxDOT to have actual knowledge of the claim, it must have “knowledge of (1) a death, injury, or property damage; (2) the governmental unit’s alleged fault producing or contributing to the death, injury, or property damage; and (3) the identity of the parties involved. Brown refers to the accident reports to establish actual notice.   “Accident reports are often insufficient to provide actual notice under the Tort Claims Act.” Merely investigating an accident does not provide a governmental unit with subjective awareness of its fault. The accident reports in this case state that the accident occurred because Brown was operating a vehicle at night while drunk. Nothing indicates TxDOT was at fault. The information received by TxDoT suggested only that Brown caused the accident.  Therefore, no actual notice is present.  The plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice III Morriss, Justice Moseley and Justice Burgess