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Sovereign Immunity and Texas Tort Claims Act

What is Sovereign Immunity?

The Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity is a common-law rule stating that the government is not liable to its citizens for torts. Under this rule, the government must give people permission to sue them.

The State of Texas, however, like many other states grants citizens the right to sue the State, cities, and/or counties by Statute.  The Statute is called the Texas Tort Claims Act.

Can I Sue the State of Texas for a Personal Injury?

Judges GavelYou may sue the State of Texas for a personal injury caused by the negligence of the state or a state actor if the manner in which the injury occurred falls under certain specific limitations set forth by the state’s relevant tort claims act. Otherwise, you may not sue the State of Texas for a personal injury.

It happens often enough that a government employee is in the exercise of his or her normal and expected duty and while using a state car, gets into an accident. A recent local case is a prime example of this scenario. A police officer responded to an emergency call, drove through an intersection, and hit the plaintiff’s car, causing injuries. City of Brazoria v. Ellis, No. 14-14-00322-CV (Tex App. May 28, 2015) memorandum opinion. Under common law, an individual has no right to sue the state. The state has sovereign immunity. In order to sue the government for any reason, you must have the government’s permission.

How Do I Sue the State of Texas?

In order to file a lawsuit against the State of Texas, you must meet all of the requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act (Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 101). This means that your case must fall under one of the four types of lawsuits for which the act grants permission to sue the State of Texas. In addition, you are required to give notice of your claim within the timeframe required by the Act.

What is the Texas Torts Claims Act?

The Texas Torts Claims Act (Section 101 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code) grants permission to sue the State of Texas for certain specific limited circumstances that are defined under the statute.

With respect to personal injury claims in Texas, there are two grounds:

  • Property damage, personal injury or death arising from a State employee’s use/operation of a motor vehicle while in the course and scope of his employment duties, and;
  • Personal injury or death caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, if it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law.*

In order to prevail in a premise liability claim, the Texas Tort Claims Act further breaks defects into two classes: special defects and premise defects.  Special defects tend to be government-created conditions like excavations in roads whereas premise defects are the more typical slip and fall or trip and fall on water or a rug in a government building. If the defect is a premise defect, you have to prove actual knowledge of the defect on the part of the government before the fall occurred.  Here is more reading on special defect vs premise defect. A slip and fall lawyer can help you better understand the difference and how it may affect your case.

What Notice is Required for a Texas Tort Claim?

Under Section 101.101 of the Texas Tort Claims Act, the State of Texas is entitled to notice of the claim within 180 days of the incident occurring. Otherwise, the claimant loses the right to pursue a lawsuit.  Furthermore, this six-month timeline is not tolled or suspended, because the victim may be a minor. (The notice period can be and often is shortened by municipalities and/or counties) The notice must include the following information:

  • Description of the damage incurred,
  • Injury suffered,
  • Identity of the parties injured,
  • The incident that led to the injury, and
  • The time and place of the injury.

If the State government entity has actual notice that someone died, or sustained some injury or property damage, then notice is not required. HOWEVER, YOU SHOULD NEVER RELY ON THIS EXCEPTION NOR ASSUME IT APPLIES BECAUSE IT IS NARROWLY CONSTRUED. The proper government authorities designated to receive the notice must have actual notice of all of the same information that must be included in the notice. The notice requirement is a necessary first step, or, condition precedent, to proceed with a lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations on a Tort Claim Against the State of Texas?

Assuming proper notice was timely filed within 180 days, the plaintiff still has up to two years after the incident to file suit. Failure to file the notice in 180 days, however, kills the case immediately if the government entity is not on notice otherwise. Cities often shorten the notice period. For example, the City of Houston is 90 days.  Thus it is critical that you take action immediately. See: Is a City Liable for Defects in City-Owned Sidewalks?

What Are the Limitations on Damages Under the Texas Tort Claims Act?

Under Section 101.023 of the Texas Tort Claims Act, the maximum amount that any individual may recover depends on what type of government unit is being sued. The State and the city government allow for up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per incident. All other levels of government allow for $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. Exemplary damages are not permitted against the government because there is no waiver of immunity for exemplary damages.

Can I Sue the Police For Negligence During an Emergency Response?

Actions against emergency responders are severely limited under the Texas Tort Claims Act. As long as the state actor is properly responding to an emergency call or responding to an emergency situation and the actor does not act ‘with conscious indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others,’ there is no waiver of sovereign immunity under the Act and, therefore, no claim may be brought.  Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, § 101.055. This protects the government from liability for police officers and government-operated ambulance drivers who are in an auto collision while responding in good faith to an emergency situation.

Can I Sue a City?

Yes. You may sue a City for a personal injury caused by one of its employee’s negligence or by their negligent use of property. In order to sue a city, there are very strict time limits and requirements that you MUST meet or lose the right to file. You must have a case that qualifies for a waiver of sovereign immunity under the Texas Torts Claims Act and you must give notice in accordance with the City’s requirements as set by City Ordinance. Failure to give notice to the proper parties in a timely manner means that your claim is waived. This is a huge trap for many unwary claimants as the notice period is set by the City itself.

How Do I Sue a City for a Personal Injury?

In order to sue a City, you must first give written notice the the parties to the City requires notice to be given to.  Then you can prepare and file an original petition. The notice requirement typically requires that you provide notice to entities such as the mayor, city council, city secretary, city attorney, and/or any other entity they deem fit. The notice must provide specified details of the incident (date, time, place, people involved), and usually requires a detailed damage claim and often an amount they can settle now for. In order to sue a City, you will want to go to their website and search for ‘tort claims’ to see if they post the specific notice requirements for that city. Here is an example of the one for the City of Houston. If your city does not have a page, you will have to look to the city ordinances which can be often found online at Beware that there will be a very short time limit on when you must give notice. 90 days required notice is common with cities. Some are as little as 60 days. Others could be shorter.

How Do I Sue a County for Personal Injury?

To sue a County, you must send written notice in accordance with their notice requirements to all proper parties first, then you can file a lawsuit. To determine the specific notice requirements, go to the County website and search for their tort claims requirements. Here is an example of the tort claims page for Harris County. They also set the notice period in which you MUST provide notice or waive your claim. It too could be a matter of a few months depending upon the county so do not delay in providing notice.


Thus, there are certain cases and circumstances under which you may sue the government in Texas when a tort is committed by the government. However, there are strict rules and notice requirements you must follow. Thus, you should seek legal advice immediately if you were injured due to the negligence of a government employee, agency, or official.




If you have a personal injury case and would like to know whether it is something that our law firm can help you with, please fill out the form to the right and submit your information or pick up the phone and call us between 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM on Monday through Thursday and 8:30 AM  and 5:00 PM on Friday and out intake team can go help evaluate your case and determine who the best person is for you to talk to about your case. Consultations are 100% free and you have no obligation to hire us.


Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., rooted in Christian values, exclusively handles personal injury cases, advocating for the rights of accident and negligence victims. Our Houston-based team, dedicated to compassion and excellence, handles cases across car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, slip and falls, dog bites, and other types of cases with a commitment to personalized care. Upholding integrity and client-focused service, we strive for impactful legal outcomes. For a detailed understanding of our approach and team, visit our attorneys page.

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