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Can You Sue the City of Houston If Its Employee Causes a Car Accident?

When a car accident is caused by someone acting on behalf of their employer, that employer can be held vicariously liable for any injuries sustained by other people. This applies to both private and public employers. With respect to the latter, this means you can sue the State of Texas or one of its subdivisions if you are hurt in a car accident arising from the negligence of a government employee who was acting within the scope of said employment.

Now, filing a personal injury claim against a government entity is somewhat more complicated than suing a private employer. Texas and its subdivisions are immune from civil lawsuits except where the state legislature has expressly waived such immunity. Fortunately, there is a law on the books–the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA)–that waives immunity for personal injury claims. But plaintiffs need to strictly follow certain rules to ensure their case may be heard in court.

Houston Appeals Court Rules Accident Victim Can Proceed with Personal Injury Claim

One of these rules is the statute of limitations. Under Texas law, a person injured in an auto accident normally has two years from the date of that accident to file suit against a defendant. In the case of claims made under the TTCA this is known as a jurisdictional requirement, i.e., a Texas court cannot hear a lawsuit if it is filed after the two-year time limit has expired.

But a Houston appeals court recently addressed the technical question of whether an accident victim must also formally serve a lawsuit within that two-year period to maintain jurisdiction. The case, City of Houston v. Meka, involves a May 2018 car accident involving several victims who were hit by a vehicle owned by the City of Houston and operated by one of its employees. The plaintiff was one of those victims. She filed a lawsuit against the city in December 2019, which was well within the two-year statute of limitations.

The plaintiff subsequently filed an amended lawsuit, which she did not serve on the city until January 2021, eight months after the limitations period expired. Houston moved for summary judgment, arguing the court lacked jurisdiction because it was not served within two years of the original accident. The plaintiff argued she attempted to serve the city, and in any case the statute of limitations had been suspended during part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trial court denied the city’s request for summary judgment. The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals in Houston agreed with that decision. Citing a similar case recently decided by the Court of Appeals in Austin, the 14th District said that service was not a statutory requirement of the TTCA to maintain jurisdiction. The statute only required the plaintiff file her lawsuit within the two-year period, which she did. The city could still challenge the service as untimely, but for now the plaintiff could proceed with her personal injury claim.

Contact The Stano Law Firm Today

As you can see, there are a number of technical rules that must be followed in any successful personal injury case. So if you need legal advice and representation from a qualified Houston car accident lawyer, contact The Stano Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation. You pay nothing until we win. Call 713-766-4380 or use our contact form today!