City immune from suit for traffic light displaying “walk” signal at same time as green “turn arrow” says 13th Court of Appeals

City of Edinburg v. Melinda Balli  13-17-00183-CV (Tex.App–, Corpus Christi, November 9, 2017)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act case where the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims.

Balli asserts she was struck by a vehicle as she used a crosswalk near the Hidalgo County Courthouse.  She asserts the pedestrian traffic light displayed a “walk” signal for pedestrians when she began to cross, however, the traffic light displayed a green arrow for turning vehicles, thereby causing the accident.  She asserts the City entered into a Municipal Maintenance Agreement with the State of Texas, in which the City undertook the duty “to make changes in the design and operation of the highway traffic signal(s) as it may deem necessary . . . .” and to provide and maintain traffic lights at various intersections. According to Balli’s petition, the City was aware of the problem with the traffic signals due to a similar collision on January 17, 2012. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing the lights were not malfunctioning, but were operating as designed by TxDOT to display a “walk” and a “turn arrow” at the same time. Vehicles are required to yield to pedestrians in the cross-walks. The trial court denied the plea and the City appealed.

Under the Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”), the Texas Supreme Court has found a waiver of immunity “only in those situations in which the sign or signal was either (1) unable to convey the intended traffic control information, or (2) conveyed traffic control information other than what was intended.”  The term “condition” under the TTCA refers exclusively to “something ‘wrong’ with the traffic sign or signal such that it would require correction after notice.” Further, under the TTCA, a governmental entity remains immune from suits arising from its discretionary acts and omissions. The City asserts it assumed responsibility for the lights in 2012, and the City has not changed the lights’ programming originally inserted by TxDOT since that time. The City reasoned that because the lights “convey[ed] the intended traffic control information,” the traffic lights do not qualify as a wrongful condition of real property for which immunity would be waived. Based on testimony attached to the plea, the City utilized its discretion not to change the design or programming of the lights since they complied with TxDOT guidelines. Since the City established the lights were working as intended, Balli had the burden to negate that factual assertion. However, the only evidence Balli provides merely attacks the wisdom of that intent and the discretionary design choices, not the functioning of the lights. Balli has not produced any evidence that would create a fact issue concerning the existence of a “condition” in real property and waive immunity. The trial court should have granted the plea.

If you want to read this opinion, click here. The panel consists of Justices Rodriguez,  Benavides, and Longoria. Justice Rodriguez delivered the opinion of the court. To see the attorneys listed for the Appellant and Appellee click here.