SW Legal studies in Business

Gravel on Road Does Not Create Condition for Which State Can Be Held Liable
Description

Texas high court held that loose gravel on a highway, which was related to a fatal accident, did not make the state liable under the Tort Claims Act. For there to be liability, the state would have had to create a special defect on the road that would be unexpected by a driver.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Wrongful Death; Sovereign Immunity; Tort Claims Act; Highway; Loose Gravel

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Rebecca York lost control of her vehicle while crossing a patch of loose gravel on a state road in Texas. She cross the center line, hit an oncoming truck, and was killed. The day before, a Texas road crew had applied a spot seal coat on the road where the accident occurred. Liquid asphalt had been sprayed and covered with gravel. At the time of the accident, the gravel was one-half to three-quarters inch think. York’s spouse filed a wrongful death suit against the state. The state claimed sovereign immunity, except to the extent that is waived under the Tort Claims Act. The jury returned a verdict for a million dollars, which was reduced to $250,000 by statutory limitation. The state appealed. The appeals court affirmed, holding that the loose gravel is a special defect or premise defect that makes the state liable. The state appealed.

Decision

Reversed and remanded. The patch of loose gravel was not a special defect or premise defect under the Tort Claims Act. Hence, the state did not have an invitee standard of care with respect to York. For there to be a special or premise defect, the plaintiff must prove that the governmental unit (the highway department) had knowledge of a condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm and that the plaintiff did not have knowledge of the condition. That could be the case if the road crew had created a hole that caused a danger or created some other unusual obstruction. A layer of loose gravel on a road does not meet the standard of an unexpected or dangerous condition.

Citation

Texas Dept. of Transportation v. York, ---S.W.3d--- (2008 WL 5105254, Sup. Ct., Tx., 2008)

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