Beaumont Court of Appeals holds incident report of inmate injury due to power tools was insufficient to establish actual knowledge under TTCA

Texas Department of Criminal Justice v. Neftali Cisneros 09-17-00161-CV (Tex. App– Beaumont March 1, 2018)

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction in a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case, where the Beaumont Court of Appeals reversed the denial and ruled in favor of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”).

Cisneros was injured in an accident involving a commercial grade woodworking power saw while incarcerated by the TDCJ. While Cisneros was cleaning the saw with an air hose while it was turned off, another incarcerated individual turned the power on. Cisneros lost his right hand and fingers. He sued the TDCJ for negligence. The TDCJ filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. It appealed.

The TDCJ asserted Cisneros failed to file a notice of claim within the statutory time period.  Cisneros asserts the TDCJ had actual notice of his claim and therefore, formal statutory written notice is not needed. To have such actual knowledge, the governmental unit must have: (1) knowledge of a death, injury, or property damage; (2) subjective awareness of the governmental unit’s alleged fault producing or contributing to the death, injury, or property damage; and (3) knowledge of the identity of the parties involved.  Subjective awareness is required because if a governmental entity is not aware of its fault, it does not have the same incentive to gather the information the statute is designed to provide. Fault, as it pertains to actual notice, is not synonymous with liability; rather, it implies responsibility for the injury claimed.  Cisneros asserts that because the guards were called and an incident report was created, that is sufficient. However, the report indicated Cisneros acted negligently by failing to follow protocols requiring a supervisor to lock out the machine. The investigation reports do not show TDCJ’s fault. The fact that TDCJ investigated Cisneros’s accident does not constitute subjective awareness.  No other evidence existed within the record indicating TDCJ had knowledge of some fault of its own. As a result, the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice McKeithen, Kreger and Horton. Justice Kreger delivered the opinion of the court. The attorney listed for Texas Department of Criminal Justice is Carol Garcia. The attorney listed for Neftali is Scott W. Stover and Ronald Rodriguez.

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