The Car Accident Lawsuit Process In Dallas
Experienced car accident lawyers explain how the process works, step by step
If another driver caused your car accident in Dallas or elsewhere in Texas, you might be wondering whether you should file a lawsuit in response to your crash. Many times, this might be the best way to get the money you deserve for your accident-related expenses.
So how does the legal process work? What steps do you have to take to file a lawsuit? What can you be compensated for after your accident? These are all important questions. And you probably have many more. Filing a lawsuit is a big decision and a complicated legal process.
That’s why we want to help. For more than two decades, our dedicated Dallas car accident lawyers at The Marye Law Firm have been helping people file a lawsuit or take other legal action in response to serious car accidents. As a result, we thoroughly understand how the legal process works in Dallas and can help you every step of the way.
Can I file a lawsuit?
Only certain people can file a lawsuit after a car accident in Texas. The person who files the lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. The person or business being sued is known as the defendant. To file a lawsuit, the following four conditions must apply:
- Duty of care – This simply means that someone has a responsibility to act in a reasonable way towards others. In terms of a car accident, a duty of care means that drivers must act responsibly and not cause harm to others.
- Failure to exercise reasonable care – The at-fault party did not exercise reasonable care, resulting in a car accident. For example, the at-fault driver may have been texting while driving, ran a red light, or was excessively speeding at the time of the accident.
- Causation – Evidence that the at-fault party’s actions and reckless behavior directly caused the car accident.
- Direct financial loss – Evidence that the car accident resulted in a direct financial loss. As a result, you are eligible to receive damages, a legal term for financial compensation.
If these four conditions apply you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Generally, this means that people injured in a car accident caused by another driver can file a lawsuit. So can immediate family members (spouse, parent, surviving adult children) in cases involving a fatal car accident in which a family member was killed in a crash caused by another driver.
Who can I sue?
If someone caused your car accident, Texas law allows injury victims to file a lawsuit or take other legal action against the at-fault party. In general, this means you can take legal action against the following at-fault parties:
- The driver who caused the accident.
- The manufacturer of a defective vehicle or vehicle component that caused the accident.
- Under some circumstances, a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to a drunk driver.
- Anyone else who was responsible for causing your accident.
You can’t sue the insurance company directly, but if you sue an at-fault party that has liability insurance, then the insurance company will defend their interests in court – and the insurance company will be responsible for paying if you win.
What compensation can I sue for?
In general, you can file a lawsuit seeking three different types of compensation, which is legally referred to as damages. The three types of damages you may be eligible to receive include:
- Economic damages – These are direct financial losses you suffered as a result of your accident. This includes the cost of all your medical care (past and future) related to your crash, vehicle repairs, and loss of income if you cannot work due to your accident-related injuries.
- Non-economic damages – These are indirect financial losses that are not tied to a specific expense or direct loss of income. Instead, non-economic damages are more subjective and harder to prove. Examples include pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of companionship.
- Punitive damages – These are damages (compensation) awarded to the injury victim (often by a jury) and which are intended to punish the at-fault party. Punitive damages are also meant to send a message to other people and organizations to not engage in similar reckless or negligent behavior in the future.
How much time do I have to take legal action?
In Texas, the law is very clear. You have two years from the date of your accident to file a lawsuit or take other legal action, according to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2 § 16.033. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations.
A similar two year deadline applies to wrongful death cases in which someone died in a car accident due to someone else’s reckless or negligent actions. It’s critical that you do not miss these deadlines when filing a lawsuit. Otherwise, you may forfeit your right to seek financial compensation for your accident.
But just because you have up to two years to take legal action does not mean you should wait that long. The sooner you take legal action, the better. There are many reasons why, including:
- Important evidence can be lost or destroyed over time. For example, accident debris from the crash site might be taken to a junk yard soon after the accident. Another example – traffic camera footage of your crash. Such video footage might only be preserved for a few days before it’s taped over or destroyed.
- Eyewitnesses who saw your crash might be harder to find as time goes by. They might also forget what they saw several months or more after your accident. As a result, their testimony might not be helpful in your case.
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company is almost surely conducting an in-depth investigation right after your accident. Their goal is simple – to find as much evidence as possible to reduce or deny your claim.
You need to do the same. You need to have a lawyer on your side conducting an in-depth investigation of your accident in support of your accident claim or lawsuit.
Where can I file a lawsuit in Dallas?
Car accident lawsuits are considered civil cases as opposed to criminal cases. Even if the at-fault driver broke the law and is facing criminal charges, you will still need to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages (financial compensation) for your accident.
You often have several choices regarding where to file your civil car accident lawsuit. If your accident took place in Dallas, you might decide to file your lawsuit in Dallas County District Court. When doing so, the lawsuit needs to be filed with the Dallas County District Clerk’s office, located at 600 Commerce Street, Suite 103, in the George Allen Court Building.
However, you also often have the choice to file your lawsuit in a different jurisdiction, the legal term for the court that has the right to rule on your case. In particular, the plaintiff can often choose to file a lawsuit against the defendant in several other jurisdictions. These often include:
- The court that rules on legal cases where the injury victim (plaintiff) lives.
- The court that rules on cases where the at-fault driver (defendant) lives.
- The court that rules on cases where the at-fault party does business if the at-fault party is business (for example, the business address for the at-fault driver’s insurance company).
Depending on the estimated financial value of the case and other factors, injury victims might also be able to file their lawsuit in a county, state, or federal court in Texas. Ultimately, only an attorney can tell you which court or courts have jurisdiction over your case and where you should file a lawsuit. The best way to know is to talk to an experienced Dallas car accident lawyer as soon as possible.
How do I file a lawsuit in Dallas?
Once you decide if and where to file a lawsuit for your Dallas car accident, you and your lawyer will need to take the following steps to initiate the legal process:
- Prepare your legal case – We realize you probably want to file the paperwork as soon as possible. But any attorney will tell you that you need to first carefully prepare your case before filing a lawsuit. This step often involves gathering evidence in support of your case, including your official car accident report, medical records documenting your injury, statements from witnesses who saw your crash, and expert opinions about your accident.
- Write a demand letter – Before you can file a lawsuit, your attorney will need to send a letter to the at-fault party or the insurance company. This letter is known as a demand letter. In the letter, you will explain why you believe the at-fault party is responsible for financially compensating you. You will also explain why you believe the at-fault party is at fault. You will state how much money you believe the at-fault party should pay you to resolve your legal case. You will also give the at-fault party a deadline to pay you the money.
- File a petition with a court – If the at-fault party does not respond to or comply with your demands as outlined in your demand letter, the next step is to file your lawsuit. To initiate this process, you will need to file a petition with the court you want to rule on your legal case. In your petition, you will need to state who is the plaintiff (you, the injured party), who is the defendant (who’s responsible for compensating you) and how much money you believe you should be paid by the defendant.
What happens after I file a lawsuit?
Once you file a petition with a court (the first formal step when filing a lawsuit), you will need to wait for the defendant to respond to your petition letter. Common responses include:
- No response from the defendant.
- The defendant files a motion (legal request) to have your lawsuit dismissed.
- The defendant requests more information from the plaintiff.
- The defendant files a petition in response to the plaintiff’s petition. This is often known as a counter lawsuit or counterclaim.
At this point, one of two scenarios often occurs:
- Both sides agree to settle the case rather than go to trial. How does the settlement process work? Lawyers for both parties try to negotiate a resolution. Often, this involves the defendant agreeing to pay the plaintiff a set amount of money (known as a settlement) to resolve the case once and for all. A settlement agreement can be reached at any point in the legal process. Once a settlement agreement is reached, the plaintiff cannot ask for any additional money in the future.
- Both sides cannot agree to resolve the case and the case goes to trial.
How long do most car accident settlements take? Each case is different. In some cases, a settlement can be reached within a few months. But in more complex cases, negotiations may take longer. While it is difficult to determine an average settlement amount, your lawyer can give you an idea of what to expect.
What happens if my case goes to trial?
If your car accident lawsuit case goes to trial, you can expect the following steps to occur:
- Discovery stage – Legal term used to describe information shared by both sides with each other before going to trial.
- Trial date – Both sides will meet with the presiding judge to decide the date when the trial should begin.
- Jury selection – The judge and the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant will decide who will serve on the jury to rule on the case in court.
Once the trial starts, the most common steps include:
- Opening statements – The lawyers for each side briefly explain in court why they believe the judge and jury should rule in their favor.
- Evidence presented – This is the bulk of the trial and can last several days or longer. During this phase of the trial, each side will present evidence in support of their case. Such evidence can include the official car accident report, the plaintiff’s medical records documenting their injuries, statements from eyewitnesses, and accident reconstruction experts.
- Closing arguments – After both sides present evidence in support of their case, the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant then briefly explain why they believe the jury should rule in their favor.
- Verdict rendered – The jury will then decide whether to rule in favor of the plaintiff (the person injured in the car accident) or the defendant (the at-fault party).
- Award damages – If the jury rules in favor of the plaintiff, they decide how much financial compensation to award to the plaintiff. The defendant is responsible for paying this compensation, which is referred to as damages. As explained earlier, such damages may include economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Your attorney can give you a better idea of the car accident lawsuit timeline and whether a lawsuit is still possible.
Make your case matter. Choose The Marye Law Firm
You didn’t do anything wrong. You shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s mistakes. If another driver clearly caused your accident, hold them responsible for their actions. Contact our law firm and schedule your free case evaluation with a Dallas car accident lawyer who will fight for your rights.
The Marye Law Firm – we’re serious about winning your case.