In today’s litigious culture, municipalities have to worry constantly about lawsuits. From a visitor slipping and falling on public grounds to a car accident involving a state-owned vehicle, the threat of litigation is high. So is the cost of arbitration, mediation or a trial. In the face of potential claims, having a strong defense is crucial.
Three powerful defense strategies
Municipalities and their counsel have several possible strategies when it comes to mounting an aggressive defense. Three of the most common include:
- Emergency exceptions: If the incident involved a public employee responding to an emergency situation, the public entity does not have liability. This defense often applies to law enforcement officers or firefighters.
- Official immunity: This defense circumvents lawsuits against public officials who performed their discretionary duties in good faith and within the scope of their authority.
- Recreational use: In premises liability cases, a municipal entity could limit its liability if it allowed the party to use public grounds for recreational purposes.
Fortunately for municipalities, the Texas Tort Claims Act caps the damages for certain torts. These caps include:
- $100,000 property damage compensation per occurrence
- $250,000 personal injury compensation per person
- $500,000 personal injury compensation per occurrence
These limits on compensation can go a long way toward discouraging frivolous torts and reducing the amounts that municipal insurers must dig from their pockets. With the right defense tactic, though, a municipality has the chance of avoiding liability completely.
The importance of proactive risk reduction
Even with the aforementioned defenses at the ready, every municipal entity should implement measures to mitigate liability as much as possible. However, even with proactive steps and constant vigilance, it is impossible to reduce one’s exposure completely. Even if an individual or another party files a claim against a municipality, it is still far from certain that the plaintiff will recover damages. If they do, the caps for damages mean that municipalities will not have to pay exorbitant settlements or awards.