Holding the State of Texas Responsible

After being involved in an 18-wheeler accident, a Plaintiff may naturally entertain thoughts of suing the driver of the 18-wheeler, and perhaps the driver’s employer. However, these are not the only people who a Plaintiff may sue. In the State of Texas, in some circumstances it may be possible to sue the Department of Transportation if the road where the accident occurred is in bad enough condition. However, as noted by the case below, such a lawsuit may have some significant pitfalls.

In Texas Department of Transportation v. Martinez, a truck driver was operating in Duval County, Texas when his rig began to slip on the highway. The truck driver lost control of his vehicle, which crossed into opposing traffic and hit an oncoming vehicle. The driver in the oncoming vehicle was killed, and the estate of the driver filed a suit against both the truck driver and the Texas Department of Transportation under a premises liability theory.

Premises Liability basically means that the owner of property must take care so that certain people on the property are not harmed by defects in the property. Essentially, if there is some condition on the property that is unreasonably dangerous, the owner knew that the condition was dangerous, and the owner did not correct the condition or warn the visitor of the condition, then the owner can be held liable if the visitor gets hurt.

The Plaintiff in Martinez attempted to use a premises liability theory to sue the Department of Transportation. The Plaintiff argued that the road was dangerously slippery, and prone to accidents, and this led to the truck driver losing control of the vehicle and jackknifing right into the oncoming car.

Unfortunately, the Court stated that “Some conditions posing a risk of harm do not rise to the level of unreasonable risk of harm.” The Court then went on to explain that it had been raining on the day of the accident, and the rain was the primary reason that the road was slick. Because the road itself did not really have something wrong with it, but was made dangerous by the rain (which the Court argued was out of control of the Department of Transportation), there was no grounds for which the Plaintiff could recover.

The lesson in Texas Department of Transportation v. Martinez is twofold. First, it may be possible for a plaintiff in an 18-wheeler to sue the Texas Department of Transportation in some circumstances if a road is in bad enough condition. As such, this is something that should be discussed between a Plaintiff and their attorney. On the other hand, if the Plaintiff is arguing that the Department of Transportation is liable, the Plaintiff should make sure that there was actually something wrong with the road which led to the accident. It is not enough to argue that the road was slick due to rain or some other natural condition. Because of the complexity in this area of the law, it may be advisable for a Plaintiff to hire an attorney to walk the Plaintiff through filing suit against the Texas Department of Transportation.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, Call Carabin Shaw for assistance  

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