Attorney’s notice of claim letter insufficient to give City statutory notice of car accident claim says Beaumont Court of Appeals

City of Beaumont, Texas v Chiquita Armstead, 09-15-00480-CV (Tex. App. – Beaumont, March 17, 2016).

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction in a automobile accident suit where the issue centered on statutory notice. The Beaumont Court of Appeals reversed the denial and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims.

Armstead alleged that she was a passenger in a motor vehicle which collided with a City vehicle. The Beaumont police report indicated a two-vehicle accident where Armstead was a passenger. The officer narrative indicates the vehicles collided at a curve turn where lane markers appeared to stop. The collision resulted in little damage and only an ambiguous reference to a uniform injury to all drivers and passengers. Armstead’s attorney sent letters advising he represented Artmstead regarding a car accident which occurred on a specific date and that she was injured in some fashion. No further information was provided in the attorney letter. When he did not receive any response from the City he filed suit. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction (among other things) asserting it was not provided proper notice of the claim.  Attached to the City’s plea was a report from the driver of the original City vehicle describing the accident as one so minor he was not even sure damage occurred. The trial court denied the plea and the City appealed.

Formal statutory notice requires it to reasonably describe[s]: (1) the damage or injury claimed; (2) the time and place of the incident; and (3) the incident.” Actual notice requires “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.” The Beaumont Court of Appeals analyzed several cases on statutory and actual notice in this opinion. The court held the letters sent by Armstead’s attorney failed to do anything other than provide a name of the claimant. While there is a reference to an accident date, the letter fails to provide any time or description of the incident or the place of the incident.  As a result, they were insufficient. As far as actual notice goes, the City reports do not “imply let alone expressly state, that the City was at fault.” Rather, the reports establish that Armstead was a passenger in a different vehicle, that there was another driver, and that the police officer concluded that the other driver hit the City’s vehicle.  Nothing more. As a result, Armstead failed to establish the City was provided proper statutory or charter notice.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.  Panel: Chief Justice McKeithen, Justice Kreger, and Justice Johnson.  Memorandum opinion by Justice Johnson.  Attorney for the Appellant is Quentin D. Price.  The attorney for the Appellee is Jason Edwin Payne.