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Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County v. Garza

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 9, 2019

METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Appellant
v.
ADAN GARZA, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 80th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2017-23090

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Goodman and Countiss.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sherry Radack, Chief Justice.

         In this interlocutory appeal, [1] appellant, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas ("Metro"), appeals from the trial court's order denying its plea to the jurisdiction on the negligence claim of appellee, Adan Garza. In its sole issue, Metro contends that the trial court erred by denying its plea to the jurisdiction because Garza did not give timely notice of his personal injury claim, as required under the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA").[2]

         We affirm.

         Background

         Garza alleged that, on November 3, 2015, while he was driving his car northbound on the service road of the Gulf Freeway, Leo Orville was driving a Metro bus eastbound on South Lockwood Street. At the intersection of the 4500 block of the Gulf Freeway service road and Lockwood, Orville did not stop at a red signal light governing traffic in his direction and entered the intersection at the same time as Garza, causing Garza to swerve and collide with a traffic control box. Garza sued Metro for negligence, alleging that its employee, Orville, had failed to maintain a proper lookout and had failed to control his speed, to obey the traffic light, and to properly and timely apply his brakes. Garza asserted that his collision with the traffic control box caused him to sustain serious personal injuries. He sought damages for past and future medical expenses, physical pain, mental anguish, and impairment.

         Metro filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss Garza's suit, asserting that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Garza's claims because he failed to give notice of his personal injury claim within six months of the occurrence, as required by the TTCA. Thus, Metro asserted, its governmental immunity was not waived, and the trial court should dismiss Garza's suit.

         Metro first asserted that Garza did not give notice of his claim until ten months after the collision, on September 29, 2016, when Garza's counsel sent a letter to Metro. Metro further argued that the letter was insufficient to constitute formal notice under the TTCA because it was "silent as to the location of the incident, the time of day of the incident, bus route number, the nature of any injuries sustained, or any facts of how the alleged incident occurred." Metro also asserted that the letter "did not constitute actual notice, as it provided insufficient information for Metro to assess its probable fault in causing [Garza's] alleged injuries." Further, Metro asserted that the police report and the reports of its safety supervisor and bus driver "ma[d]e no mention of any alleged injuries at the scene." Metro attached to its plea the September 29, 2016 letter, a copy of the police report, Metro "Supervisor's Report of Accident," and Metro's "Accident/Incident Report."

         The September 29, 2016 letter states:

Please be advised that we represent Adan Garza for personal injuries and property damage sustained on [November 3, 2015]. . . .
Our investigation reveals that your insured is legally responsible for this collision. If you have accepted liability, please send written confirmation of same. If you are disputing liability, please send us the basis of your denial in writing, including names, addresses and telephone numbers of any potential witnesses.
Additionally, we request copies of any statement taken of our client, relevant photographs, accident reports and any line item appraisals of the property damage to each vehicle involved in this accident. Please contact my case manager, Veronica Mosqueda . . . .

         The police report states that the "signal lights were stuck green on the service road and red on S. Lockwood." The Metro bus, driven by Orville, "ran [the] red light, causing [Garza] to take evasive action." And, Garza drove over a curb and collided with a traffic signal box. A witness stated that she was driving in the lane beside the bus; that the light ahead of the bus was red; and that Garza had a green light. The police report notes "Injury Severity" as "N."

         The Supervisor's Report reflects that the supervisor attended the scene on the day of the collision. The supervisor, in his report, noted the date, time, and location of the incident; identified the bus number, bus driver's name, and Garza's name, address, and phone number; and described how the incident occurred. The report notes that Garza's car suffered "major" damage and the "Name of Injured" as "N/A."

         In his response to Metro's plea, Garza asserted that he gave Metro timely notice of his claims. On November 30, 2015, his counsel sent an email to Rolando Tolentino in the "Claims Department" at Metro, [3] with an attached letter of representation, also dated November 30, 2015, and a copy of the police report. The letter states that Garza had sustained personal injuries and property damage in the collision and that he was asserting a claim against Metro, as follows:

RE: My Client: Adan Garza
Date of Loss: 11/03/2015
Your Insured: Leo Orville - Bus: 1568
Please be advised that we represent Adan Garza for personal injuries and property damage sustained on ...

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