One of the most frustrating situations for a personal injury attorney is to have a case in which the client has serious injuries, but the defendant does not have enough insurance or assets to pay enough to cover the client’s damages. One other way that situation arises is a case against a governmental entity, because there are certain liability limits that come into play.
The San Antonio Express-News recently ran an editorial about this unfair situation. Here are excerpts:
Public employees, like everyone else, have accidents in the course of their duties. The public has a right to recover damages for property, physical injuries or loss of life when those accidents occur. Tort law is supposed to protect the public in cases of loss or harm.
That was the idea behind the Texas Tort Claims Act, a measure passed by the Legislature in 1969. Prior to the act, Texans could not recover damages in cases in which government employees were performing their duties.
Lawmakers also recognized that taxpayers deserve protection from frivolous and excessive lawsuits. So, additionally, the act limits the circumstances in which a governmental entity is liable for compensatory damages and caps those damages.
However the caps — now $250,000 per individual — often don’t allow members of the public to fully recover actual damages. That shouldn’t be the case.
In one incident a police officer answering a non-emergency call and driving 80 mph on Blanco Road without his siren or lights activated struck Vanessa Samudio. Samudio suffered major injuries, including permanent brain damage.
Samudio’s medical bills alone totaled $235,500. That doesn’t take into account intangible losses, such as a decreased quality of life or pain and anguish. Yet with the force of the Texas Tort Claims Act behind the city, she agreed to settle the case for $227,500.
The current $250,000 cap has been on the books since 1987. To keep up with inflation, the cap would need to be more than $500,000 to have the same purchasing power in 2012.
One solution would be for lawmakers to raise the cap to an appropriate level. Another would be to treat tort cases involving governmental liability in the same way as medical malpractice, with no limit on actual damages, but with caps on non-economic damages.
Such reforms would not burden taxpayers — the vast majority of governmental liability cases are settled well below the cap. They would, however, give Texans the opportunity to seek the compensation they are due in those rare cases where the actions of a government employee cause an extraordinary economic loss.