Fort Worth Court of Appeals holds each defendant, including independent contractors, separately liable for TTCA statutory caps even for single injury

Michelle Rodriguez v Fort Worth Transportation Authority, et al. 02-14-00340-CV (Tex. App.- Fort Worth, June 24th 2016)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case where a plaintiff in a wrongful death case sued multiple entities trying to exceed the TTCA’s statutory cap on damages. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals held each individual entity is liable up to the statutory caps.

Fort Worth Transportation Authority, (“FWTA”), McDonald Transit, Inc. (“MTI”), McDonald Transit Associates, Inc. (“MTA”), and LeShawn Vaughn (collectively the “Transit Defendants”) were sued by Plaintiff whose mother was killed when struck by a bus driven by Vaughn. Vaughn is an employee of MTI. MTI and MTA are both independent contractors of FWTA. The procedural case became overly complex, but the center elements for this opinion focus on whether the TTCA statutory cap of $100,000 applies to all defendants collectively, or each defendant individually. The trial court granted the Transit Defendants’ motion to dismiss Vaughn and that the $100,000 cap applies to all defendants collectively. The maximum recovery by the plaintiff is, therefore, $100,000, not $300,000. Rodriguez appealed.

The court first held the TTCA provision for employees’ dismissal from suits applies only to employees of a governmental unit and not to employees of the governmental unit’s independent contractor. Next, as to the limits of FWTA, MTI and MTA, Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§ 452.701–.720 (West 2013 & Supp. 2015) states that independent contracts of a transit authority are liable for damages only to the extent the authority is liable under the TTCA. After analyzing the statutory language and a litany of cases it held “[u ]nder the TTCA, no matter how many parts of a particular government unit a plaintiff sues, that unit cannot be held liable for an amount in excess of the cap for that unit. On the other hand, when a plaintiff sues multiple entities, each with liability limited by the TTCA, the plaintiff may recover separately from each defendant up to the amount of the cap that applies to each respective entity.” As a result, Rodriguez’s potential damages under the TTCA are limited to $300,000.

To read the full opinion please click here. Justices for this case are Meie, Walker and Dauphinot. Opinion was written by Justice Dauphinot. Attorneys listed for Fort Worth Transportation Authority are Mark G. Creighton and Timothy G Chovanec. Attorney listed for Michelle Rodriguez is J. Mark Sudderth. Attorneys  listed for Leshawn Vaughn, McDonald Transit, Inc and McDonald Transit Associates, Inc are Timothy G. Chovanec and Mark G. Creighton.