Law School Case Brief
City of Dall. v. Carbajal - 324 S.W.3d 537 (Tex. 2010)
Governmental entities have actual notice when they have 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. What is meant by the second requirement is that a governmental unit have knowledge that amounts to the same notice to which it is entitled by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101(a). That includes subjective awareness of its fault, as ultimately alleged by the claimant, in producing or contributing to the claimed injury. It is not enough that a governmental unit should have investigated an incident, or that it did investigate, perhaps as part of routine safety procedures, or that it should have known from the investigation it conducted that it might have been at fault. If a governmental unit is not subjectively aware of its fault, it does not have the same incentive to gather information that the statute is designed to provide, even when it would not be unreasonable to believe that the governmental unit was at fault. Merely investigating an accident is insufficient to provide actual notice.
Petitioner city sought review of a judgment from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District (Texas), which affirmed the trial court's denial of the city's plea to the jurisdiction in a personal injury suit brought by respondent claimant.
The claimant was injured when she drove onto an excavated road. A city police officer who responded to the accident filed a written report describing the accident and stating that there were no barricades blocking the gap in the road. The officer concluded that the gap was not properly blocked. The report did not discuss what entity had failed to erect or maintain the barricades. Approximately a year after the accident, the claimant filed suit against the city without first having provided formal notice of a claim under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101(a). The parties disputed whether the police report had provided actual notice under § 101.101(c).
Does a police report noting the perceived cause of an accident provide governmental units with actual notice of its fault in causing the accident?
The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court held that when a claimant fails to timely provide a governmental unit with formal notice of a claim, see TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 101.101(a), the Texas Tort Claims Act requires the governmental unit to have "actual notice that . . . the claimant has received some injury," id. § 101.101(c). In Texas Department of Criminal Justice v. Simons, the Court clarified that merely investigating an accident does not provide a governmental unit with actual notice--that is, with subjective awareness of its fault. See 140 S.W.3d 338, 343-48 (Tex. 2004). Because the police report here was at most an initial response to the accident, the Court held that the governmental unit, the City of Dallas, lacked actual notice. The provision of notice is a jurisdictional requirement in all suits against a governmental unit. TEX. GOV'T CODE § 311.034.
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