How To File A Personal Injury Lawsuit In Texas
Experienced Dallas personal injury lawyers explain the process
If you have been injured in an accident in Texas caused by someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior, sometimes the best way to get the money you rightfully deserve is to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages, the legal term for financial compensation. This is especially true in cases involving product liability claims and premises liability cases, including slip and fall accidents.
But how does the legal process work? How do you file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas? Below, you can learn more about this legal process. The more you read, the more you will realize just how complicated the entire process can be from start to finish. That’s why many people who decide to take legal action choose to hire a Texas personal injury lawyer.
When you have an experienced attorney on your side, you can be confident you’re taking the necessary steps to build a strong case. We know how this process works at The Marye Law Firm. That’s because our Dallas personal injury attorneys have more than two decades of legal experience. We know what to do and we’re prepared to work hard on your personal injury lawsuit.
How do I know if I have a case?
Before you file a lawsuit, it’s important to understand if you have a legal case. The best way to know for sure is to talk to a lawyer. An attorney can review what happened and help you decide if your injury qualifies as a personal injury claim.
If you decide to pursue a personal injury claim or lawsuit, you, the injured person, are referred to as the plaintiff. The person or business that caused your injury is known as the defendant.
In general, in order for the plaintiff to take legal action against the defendant seeking damages (legal term for financial compensation), four elements need to apply to the incident that caused your injury:
- Duty of care – The defendant had a legal responsibility, such as a property owner’s responsibility to provide a safe environment or a manufacturer’s responsibility to produce a product which did not cause any harm.
- Breach of duty – The defendant broke (breached) that responsibility via action or inaction (for instance, by failing to address a safety hazard in a timely manner).
- Causation – The defendant’s actions (or inaction) directly caused the plaintiff’s injury.
- Damages – The plaintiff sustained a financial loss as a result of their injury. As a result, the plaintiff can seek financial compensation (damages) for their economic loss.
Who can file a lawsuit?
Only certain people can file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. The person who sustained an injury can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Immediate family members can also take legal action if a family member died as a result of a personal injury accident. In such cases, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Texas defines immediate family members as:
- Surviving spouse (husband or wife)
- Surviving parents (mother or father)
- Surviving children (son or daughter)
The personal representative of an estate may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit or continue a personal injury lawsuit after the plaintiff’s death.
Where do I file a lawsuit?
If you decide to file a lawsuit seeking financial compensation, you will file your lawsuit in a civil court rather than a criminal court. Even if the person or business who caused your injury broke the law, your case will not be tried in a criminal court. A separate criminal case will take place.
In Texas, you have several choices concerning where to file your civil lawsuit. Each one has its own distinct rules and regulations. To decide which court is the right one for you, talk to an attorney to better understand your legal options.
How much time do I have to take legal action?
Texas has a strict deadline for how much time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations. In Texas, you have two years from the date your injury took place, according to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2 § 16.033. The same 2-year deadline applies to wrongful death lawsuits. Surviving family members must file a lawsuit or take legal action no later than two years after the death of a loved one due to a fatal personal injury accident.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Process In Texas
Once you decide if and where to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas, you need to take certain steps to successfully file a lawsuit. If you miss any of these steps, the judge presiding over your case may dismiss your lawsuit and you may have to start the entire process over or forfeit your right to take legal action. Such steps include:
One of the first steps in the lawsuit process is sending a demand letter to the defendant, the person or business that caused your injury. At this point, you have not actually filed a lawsuit. Your demand letter is part of the pre-trial phase before you take legal action.
In your demand letter, you explain to the at-fault party that you planning to file a lawsuit against them unless they meet your demands. Your demand letter should explain:
- Why you believe the at-fault party caused your injury or is responsible for your injury.
- How much money you believe the at-fault party should pay you to resolve your case.
- How much time the at-fault party has to pay you the money you requested.
Your demand letter needs to be clear, accurate, and explain why you believe the at-fault party should financially compensate you in a timely manner. Your lawyer can write your demand letter and make sure it addresses all your concerns.
After you send a demand letter, you will need to wait until after the deadline stated in your demand letter to petition the court, which simply means you have decided to file a lawsuit. You can petition the court (file a lawsuit) in writing after you send a demand letter if the following conditions apply:
- The defendant did not respond to your demand letter.
- The defendant refused to comply with the demands outlined in your demand letter.
In your petition to the court, you need to explain the following in writing:
- Why you believe the court has jurisdiction over your case.
- Who is the defendant.
- Who is the plaintiff.
- Why you believe the defendant is responsible for financially compensating you.
- How much money you believe the defendant owes you to resolve your legal case.
There is a fee for filing a petition letter with the court. Fees vary but many courts in Texas charge $200 to file a petition letter with the court.
What happens next depends largely on how the defendant responds to your petition to the court. Common responses by the defendant to your petition may include:
- The defendant does not respond to your petition to the court.
- The defendant requests additional information from the plaintiff.
- The defendant files a request (motion) with the judge to have your lawsuit dismissed.
- The defendant files a lawsuit or similar petition to the court against the plaintiff.
There are many different ways you can respond to each scenario. An experienced lawyer can explain the different responses and the advantages (and disadvantages) of each one.
If both sides (the plaintiff and the defendant) cannot agree on a solution to the petition to the court, the case will proceed to trial. The first step in the trial process is known as the discovery stage. This simply means both sides share information with each which they believe is relevant to the legal case and which may be brought up during the trial. Such information may include:
- Names of witnesses who will testify at the trial.
- Names of medical experts or other experts who will testify at the trial.
- Medical records or bills related to the plaintiff’s injury.
- Inspection reports related to the property where the injury took place.
In addition, each side may ask the other to verbally answer questions under oath. Such questions and answers are known as depositions. Depositions are conducted in the presence of a court reporter, usually in an attorney’s office.
Certain deadlines and other limitations also apply to the discovery stage. These rules and regulations vary from one state to another. The discovery rules in Texas can be found in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 192.1 and 192.2.
Before your case goes to trial, some judges in Texas require both sides to participate in mediation, a process where the two sides attempt to resolve their dispute with the assistance of an impartial mediator.
Mediation can be a less expensive way than a court trial to resolve a personal injury dispute. However, both sides need to agree and mediation can slow down the litigation process. So before you agree to anything, talk with your lawyer about whether mediation is right for your particular situation.
Another way both sides often agree to conclude a personal injury dispute is through a settlement offer. As the name suggests, the defendant makes a financial settlement offer to the plaintiff to settle the legal case. If you, the plaintiff, agree to accept the settlement offer, the case is resolved once and for all and will not go to trial. Ultimately, most cases are resolved via settlement.
While it might be tempting to accept a financial settlement offer, it’s important to carefully consider whether such an offer covers all your injury-related expenses. Keep in mind that many expenses can increase over time, especially if you sustained a serious injury that requires long-term medical care. And once you accept a settlement offer, you cannot ask for more money in the future.
If you do not settle your legal dispute through mediation or a settlement, your lawsuit will then likely proceed to trial in court. A civil court trial has many steps, including:
- Setting a trial date
- Selecting a jury, if applicable.
- Opening statements by each side explaining why they believe the court should rule in their favor.
- Evidence presented by each side.
- Closing arguments by each side explaining why they believe the court should rule in their favor.
- Jury renders a verdict, a legal decision in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant.
- If the jury rules in favor of the plaintiff, they will decide to award damages, which is financial compensation the defendant must pay the plaintiff.
If the court decides to award you damages, you could receive money for the following three types of damages:
- Economic damages (direct costs associated with your injury, including medical bills and replacement income)
- Non-economic damages (money for indirect costs such as pain and suffering)
- Punitive damages (money awarded to you meant to punish the defendant and send a message that such negligent behavior will not be tolerated by the court)
Know your rights. Contact The Marye Law Firm
The stakes are high in many personal injury lawsuits. If the court rules in your favor, you may be entitled to receive thousands of dollars or significantly more. Make sure you make the most of your opportunity for justice. Contact us and schedule a free case evaluation with a Dallas personal injury lawyer who puts your best interests first.
The Marye Law Firm – we’re serious about winning your case.