Damage Award For Man Injured In Bus Accident Reduced Where Defendant Was A Governmental Unit

JurisdictionTexas,United States
Law FirmWood Smith Henning & Berman LLP
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Trials & Appeals & Compensation, Personal Injury
AuthorMs Cynthia Tari
Published date10 February 2023

In the case of Gulf Coast Center v. Curry, Case No. 20-0856 (Tex. 2022), the Supreme Court of Texas found that courts may not render a judgment that exceeds the statutory damage cap under the Texas Torts Claims Act and a plaintiff seeking recovery under the Act has the burden to prove which cap applies. The plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the trial court had jurisdiction to render a judgment exceeding the minimum statutory cap. The Texas Supreme Court reduced the $216,000 judgment finding that the Act requires lower courts to cap damages when the defendant is a local government or governmental unit, even if the issue wasn't brought during trial.

Important Facts

The role of the Gulf Coast Center is to provide specialized services for community members with intellectual disabilities who reside in Galveston and Brazoria Counties. As part of its services, Gulf Coast offers public bus transportation to help some of its patients travel to the facility. One of the buses driven by a Gulf Coast employee struck Daniel Curry as he crossed the street. Curry sustained injuries and brought a claim against Gulf Coast for compensation.

In his suit, Curry asserted that Gulf Coast is a "governmental unit" and that the Texas Tort Claims Act (the Act) prevented Gulf Coast from claiming immunity and avoiding liability. Gulf Coast conceded that it is in fact a governmental unit, but also alleged that it was protected by governmental immunity and that any liability it may hold would be limited by the Act.

A jury ruled in favor of Curry and found that Gulf Coast was negligent. It awarded Curry $216,000. Curry was not satisfied with this verdict and demanded a judgment for the full amount of the verdict plus interest and costs. He supported his demand by arguing that the total did not exceed the $250,000 statutory cap outlined by the Act. Gulf Coast, on the other hand, filed a motion to reform the judgment and cap its liability at $100,000 in accordance with the Act's cap. The trial court denied Gulf Coast's motion and affirmed the judgment for Curry. Gulf Coast appealed claiming that the lower court's decision was not in line with the requirements of the Act.

Sovereign and Governmental Immunity

Texas has a long-standing policy of not permitting lawsuits against the State of Texas, unless the State consents to litigating the claim. Fed. Sign v. Tex. S. Univ., 951 S.W.2d 401, 405 (Tex. 1997). Sovereign immunity generally falls into two possible categories- immunity from suit, or immunity from liability. Both can also apply to a singular set of circumstances. State v. Lueck, 290 S.W.3d 876, 880 (Tex. 2009). Immunity from suit "bars an action against the State unless the State consents to the suit." Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Jones, 8 S.W.3d 636, 638 (Tex. 1999). "Consent to suit must ordinarily be found in a constitutional provision or legislative enactment."...

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