TxDOT had no actual knowledge of dangerous condition so entitled to dismissal says Sixth Circuit

Texas Department of Transportation v. Jacqueline Ingram, No. 06-13-00047-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana, October 4, 2013).

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act case where the plaintiff lost control over her vehicle and struck a ditch twelve hours after The Texas Department of Transportation (“TxDOT”) finished a limestone pre-mix overlay on the roadway. Ingram sued alleging the repairs were conducted improperly using the wrong materials, that warning signs should have been posted, and that excess pre-mix should have been swept away in order to keep the road safe. TxDOT filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a no-evidence motion for summary judgment arguing Ingram could not show TxDOT’s actual knowledge of the dangerous condition prior to the accident.  The trial court denied the plea and MSJ and TxDOT appealed.

The Sixth District Court of Appeals first examined whether this was a special defect case (where actual knowledge is not required) or a premise defect case (where actual knowledge is required). Interestingly enough, the court performed this analysis even though the parties agreed this was not a special defect case.  The analysis is interesting and can be cited for the proper standards to apply the special v premise defect standards. But ultimately, the court agreed this was not a special defect.

Next, after going through and commenting on a host of deposition testimony the court determined that no evidence of actual knowledge existed. The court emphasized that actual knowledge can be proven by circumstantial evidence, but only when it “either directly or by reasonable inference” supports that conclusion. Conclusions based on assumptions and approximations are not sufficient, even if done by an expert.  This analysis is a pretty good one for lawyers attempting to argue the actual knowledge prong of a premise defect defense since it examines the testimony in-depth before coming to the conclusion no actual knowledge existed. In the end, the court held the plea to the jurisdiction should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.