Making an Injury Claim Under the Texas Tort Claims Act

If your case involves the potential liability of a Texas government agency or employee, your injury claim will need to follow a unique set of rules.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 5/22/2024

Filing a personal injury lawsuit is usually an option for anyone who has suffered harm as a result of the negligence of a private individual or business in Texas. But what happens when a government body or one of its employees might be to blame? A car accident with a city employee who's driving on official business, or a slip and fall in a state-owned building are a few examples.

In those situations, you'll likely need to file a claim under the Texas Tort Claims Act, and that means following specific procedural guidelines if you want to get compensation for your losses, whether from the state or local government.

What Is the Texas Tort Claims Act?

States are typically entitled to "immunity" from most kinds of liability, meaning you can't typically file a lawsuit against the state government. But every state has given up or "waived" this immunity, at least partially, by passing laws dictating when and how the government might be held liable for harm caused by its own conduct (or the conduct of a government employee). The Texas Tort Claims Act, which can be found at Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Title 5, Chapter 101, is one of these laws.

Passed in 1969, the Act partially waives immunity to liability for certain wrongs committed by "governmental units" and their employees in Texas. A "governmental unit" includes almost any government agency or organization at either the state or local level, including:

  • "all departments, bureaus, boards, commissions, offices, agencies, councils, and courts" of the state, and
  • "political subdivisions" of the state, including cities, counties, school districts, and more.

What Kinds of Incidents Are Covered Under the Texas Tort Claims Act?

Under the Act, a "governmental unit" can be held liable for:

  • harm caused by accidents involving vehicles or "motor-driven equipment" operated by the government (including traffic accidents caused by a government employee who's on the job), and
  • injuries caused by the condition or use of government-owned personal or real property (which would include claims for a slip and fall or other injury that occurs on poorly-maintained or unreasonably dangerous government property).

A few more conditions are required. The government is only liable if:

  • the employee that caused the accident was "acting within the scope of" their employment (meaning they were performing their official duties or otherwise working at the time of the incident), and
  • the employee would have been liable if they had been acting as a private individual under the same set of circumstances.

In claims involving car accidents or similar mishaps involving vehicles or "motor-driven equipment," an injured person or their representative may seek compensation ("damages") for personal injury, property damage, or death.

But in all other cases under this section of the Act—such as a premises liability claim over an injury caused by unsafe property—the claimant can be awarded damages if death or personal injury occur, but not for harm to property.

Additional Liability Rules for "Municipalities" In Texas

On top of liability for the types of incidents we just discussed, the Tort Claims Act also says that a "municipality" in Texas is liable for damages resulting from its "government functions," or functions that the municipality:

  • has been tasked with under Texas law, and
  • which are in the interest of the general public.

These include things like police and fire protection, sanitation services, street and bridge construction, transportation systems, water and sewer service, and dozens of other government functions listed at Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 101.0215.

But the Tort Claims Act also says that Texas municipalities are not liable for damages that arise out of "proprietary functions," or non-mandatory functions that the municipality may perform. These include things like the operation and maintenance of a public utility, and any "abnormally dangerous or ultrahazardous" activities.

Where a "proprietary function" is involved, the government is typically liable exactly as if it were a private person. It can't use the Texas Tort Claims Act to shield itself from liability.

Filing a "Notice of Claim" Under the Texas Tort Claims Act

You must give "notice of claim" to the government unit you think is responsible for your injury or other harm, no later than six months after the incident giving rise to the claim. As we'll see later, the deadline for getting the notice of claim filed can be much shorter if you're dealing with potential negligence at the city level.

Under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 101.101, this notice must "reasonably describe":

  • the damage or injury you're claiming
  • the time and place of the incident, and
  • the incident itself, including the nature and extent of your harm.

Claims against the Texas government at the state level can be filed with the Attorney General.

Claims against a local government in Texas should be filed with the municipality directly, City charters might require a shorter deadline for the notice of claim, and may also ask claimants to provide more information than what's listed above. For example, the notice of claim filed with a city might need to include the total dollar amount of losses the claimant is alleging.

Most municipal governments provide online instructions and/or forms for filing a claim. For instance:

  • The City of Austin website provides claim-filing details (including a 45-day deadline for notice of claim).
  • The City of Dallas site includes a claim form and information (including a six-month deadline for notice of claim).
  • The City of Houston site offers claim-filing instructions (including a 90-day deadline for filing the notice of claim).

What Happens After I File the "Notice of Claim" Under the Texas Tort Claims Act?

Once you file your notice of claim, the government unit will investigate the underlying incident, determine whether or not a government employee was indeed negligent, and either pay the claim (through settlement) or deny it.

If your claim is formally denied, you can move forward with filing a lawsuit against the government unit, just as you would file a lawsuit against a private party. That means you'll have to establish:

  • that the negligence of a government employee was the cause of your injuries or other harm, and
  • the nature and extent of that harm.

Learn more about proving fault in personal injury cases.

It's important to note that even if your lawsuit is successful, the amount of compensation you can receive is limited under the Texas Tort Claims Act, as we'll explain in the next section.

Are There Caps on Damages Under the Texas Tort Claims Act?

Yes. Whether your Texas Tort Claims Act claim is settled by the government unit you filed with, or you end up taking your case all the way to court, there are financial limits ("caps") on the government unit's liability for damages.

Claims against the state of Texas or one of its branches or agencies are limited to no more than:

  • $250,000 per claimant, and $500,000 overall per incident (for all claimants affected by the incident) for bodily injury, and
  • $100,000 per incident for damage to property (for all claimants affected by the incident).

Claims against a "unit of local government" in Texas are limited to:

  • $100,000 per claimant and $300,000 overall per incident (for all claimants affected by the incident) for bodily injury, and
  • $100,000 per incident for damage to property (for all claimants affected by the incident).

Claims against a "municipality" are capped at:

  • $250,000 per person and $500,000 overall per incident (for all claimants affected by the incident) for bodily injury, and
  • $100,000 per incident for damage to property (for all claimants affected by the incident).

These caps can be found at Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section 101.023.

Getting Help With a Texas Tort Claims Act Case

The Texas Tort Claims Act isn't always easy to decipher, especially when it comes to what is or isn't a "government function," if you're filing a claim against a Texas municipality. Complying with the "notice of claim" requirement can also be daunting. You can always try handling the process yourself, but if you'd rather hand everything off to an experienced professional at the outset, learn more about:

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