Is A City Housing Authority Entitled to Sovereign Immunity in an Auto Accident?

Is A City Housing Authority Entitled to Sovereign Immunity in an Auto Accident?

If you’ve been in an auto accident caused by a Housing Authority driver, and have suffered injuries and economic losses, you have the right to sue the Housing Authority for damages. Will the lawsuit go through or be thrown out of court? Even if they caused the accident, is the City Housing Authority driver protected by sovereign immunity?

Let’s try to answer these questions below, and understand how a Beaumont automobile accident lawyer can be of assistance to you and your family.

How an Auto Accident Lawyer Defines ‘Sovereign Immunity’

Sovereign immunity within the United States usually applies to the state and federal governments instead of municipalities. These governments can choose to waive their sovereign immunity, if desired, as shown within the Federal Tort Claims Act when federal immunity was waived for various tort claims.

The overall concept of sovereign immunity originated within British common law doctrine which allowed the King to essentially be considered invincible from a legal standpoint. How would this apply, though, in the U.S. when it comes to automobile accidents involving government vehicles?

Function Test – Governmental vs Proprietary

A key factor in determining if a City Housing Authority is entitled to sovereign immunity in an automobile accident is the function (or purpose) being fulfilled by the City Housing Authority driver at the time of the accident. This aligns with the test conducted that distinguishes governmental functions from proprietary functions.

It basically boils down to whether or not the driver was focusing on personal or business purposes when they were behind the wheel. For instance:

  • Proprietary: If they were doing something either related to their personal or private business, then they would not be entitled to sovereign immunity and would be held liable for the automobile accident.
  • Governmental: If they were performing a government-based duty or task, then they would be covered by sovereign immunity and not held liable for the accident.

Examples of Cases Involving Sovereign Immunity

Within the past decade alone, there have been quite a few noteworthy cases in the United States involving sovereign immunity in automobile accidents.

accidents caused by public officials are treated differently by law

  • Bertrand v Board of County Commissioners of Park County: A city employee operated a road grader on a local highway in June of 1989. Cheryl Bertrand (the plaintiff) along with a friend and her children rode horses that same morning on an adjacent path. The road grader scared the horses as it passed by them, which resulted in Bertrand being thrown from her horse and injured. The court dismissed the complaint based on the sovereign immunity used as an affirmative defense.
  • Williams v State of Colorado Department of Highways: Annette M. Williams (plaintiff) filed a complaint that she was injured by a “motor vehicle snowplow” headed westbound that was owned by the state in February of 1990. The complaint was that the snowplow was negligently driven by the employee as it crossed into the eastbound land and collided with her automobile. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case based on sovereign immunity.
    The case was eventually tried before a jury, which is when the defendant requested a directed verdict on the grounds of sovereign immunity. The driver of the snowplow testified that the blade of the snowplow got stuck in the dirt and forced the driver to veer off to the left, colliding into the plaintiff’s automobile. It was determined that the snowplow would not meet the definition of a “motor vehicle,” which meant that sovereign immunity did not apply to it. It was not covered by the Governmental Immunity Act, so the case was closed in favor of the plaintiff.

Other cases have received similar results over the years – proving that not all cases involving sovereign immunity are open-shut cases. This is another reason why having the expertise of a Beaumont car accident lawyer at your disposal is such a worthwhile investment.

Understanding the Importance of Location

An old saying is that “location is everything.” That principle applies when it comes to determining if sovereign immunity is involved in an automobile accident as well.

The entitlement depends on the specific circumstances related to a specific jurisdiction. There are some jurisdictions in which city housing authorities are viewed as “arms of the government” that receive the entitlement. Even in those cases, though, the function test referenced above plays an integral role in addition to local ordinances and state laws.

It is highly recommended to trust in the expert guidance of an automobile accident lawyer with ample knowledge of and experience with these types of automobile accident cases.

Call a Beaumont Automobile Accident Lawyer Today

As mentioned, it is best for you to trust in the expert guidance and insight of an automobile accident lawyer with experience in sovereign immunity cases. Brent Coon & Associates have been able to successfully fight cases in various areas related to automobile accidents over the years – including cars, trucks, Uber drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians.

We invite you to call our office at (409) 222-2222 right away to schedule your free consultation and case review. One of our Beaumont car accident attorneys will work directly with you to get all your questions answered as we review the pertinent details and specific circumstances of your case.


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