How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Texas
Our lawyers explain how the process works, step by step
If you or a loved one was injured in an accident in Texas, you might be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit. But how does the process work? Who can file a lawsuit? What can injury victims be compensated for? How much time do you have to take legal action?
It’s important to fully understand your rights if you’re considering taking legal action. Otherwise, you could make a mistake that could potentially jeopardize the outcome of your legal case. It’s also important to realize that the rules for each state can be very different. That’s why you need to know how the system works in Texas if you’re considering taking legal action here.
Who can file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas?
In many cases, only the person who was injured in an accident can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. The person who files the lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. The person or business the plaintiff is taking legal action against is called the defendant.
However, there are sometimes exceptions concerning who can take legal action. One of the most common examples is fatal accidents in which someone died due to someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior. In such cases, the following people can often file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas:
- Spouse (husband or wife) of the deceased
- Parent (mother or father) of the deceased
- Surviving children, including adult children in the event of a parent’s death
If immediate family members do not file a wrongful death claim within three months of a person’s death in Texas, the executor of the deceased person’s estate has the right to file a claim, unless a surviving family member specifically asks the estate to not do so.
What compensation can I sue for?
In Texas, you have the right to seek financial compensation for any expenses related to your accident. Such expenses can cover a wide range, including all future anticipated expenses related to your accident. Such expenses may include:
- All medical care related to your injury, including all future medical expenses associated with your accident. Such future expenses may include follow-up surgical procedures, physical therapy and prescription medications for chronic pain.
- Compensation for property damage caused by the accident. This may include vehicle repair or replacement costs, as well as damage to your home, business or other property.
- Modifications to your home if you have a permanent disability due to your accident.
- Replacement income if you need to rest and recover after your accident and cannot work during this time.
- Lost future income if you cannot return to work due to a severe injury.
The bottom line is you should not have to pay for someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior. If someone caused your injury, you should be financially compensated for all expenses related to your accident.
Is there a deadline for filing a lawsuit?
In most cases, you only have two years from the date of your accident to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. The same is true if someone died in an accident in Texas. The deadline (known as the statute of limitations) to file a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of a person’s death. Sometimes, there are some exceptions in certain circumstances. In most cases, if you miss these deadlines, you could miss out on your only opportunity to get the money you deserve for your injury-related expenses.
Where do I file a lawsuit?
In Texas, most personal injury lawsuits are considered civil court cases. As a result, you will need to file your lawsuit in a civil court, as opposed to a criminal court of law. Normally, this involves filing a personal injury lawsuit in a state trial court, also known as a district court in Texas. However, injury victims also have the right to file a lawsuit in a county-level court if the estimated value of the civil claim is between $200 and $10,000.
The presiding judge will then determine whether the plaintiff has a legitimate claim and how to proceed with the case. In certain circumstances, the presiding judge may decide that the case should be heard in federal court. This often occurs if the case involves violations of federal law and/or the defendant lives or does business in another state. Federal courts also sometimes preside over cases involving more than $75,000 in damages, the legal term for financial compensation awarded to injury victims.
What people might not realize is you can often choose which court you can file your lawsuit in Texas. This is important since some jurisdictions (the legal term for the court that has the right to rule on the case) may be more receptive to certain lawsuits than other jurisdictions. In general, the plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit in up to three different jurisdictions:
- The district court that has jurisdiction over where the accident took place
- The district court that has jurisdiction over where the plaintiff lives
- The district court that has jurisdiction over where the defendant lives or does business
A lawyer familiar with different jurisdictions in Texas and how the legal process works in the state can discuss with you where is the best place to file your lawsuit.
How does the process work?
If you decide to file a lawsuit, you and your attorney will often take the following steps to prepare your case and formally file a lawsuit seeking damages:
- Gather evidence in support of your case – Often, this step involves conducting an in-depth investigation into the cause of your accident. This is a very important step since evidence in support of a lawsuit can often strengthen a legal case. Evidence can vary widely from one case to another, including accident reports, medical records and inspection reports in cases involving unsafe conditions.
- Write a demand letter – This formal letter often written by the plaintiff’s attorney explains why the plaintiff believes the defendant is responsible for the accident. The demand letter also explains how much money the plaintiff believes they should receive to compensate them for their financial loss. In addition, the demand letter normally includes a deadline for the defendant to pay the requested amount of money. If the defendant does not pay by the stated deadline, the demand letter often states that the plaintiff will take legal action, often in the form of a lawsuit, to resolve the legal case.
- Write a complaint letter – If the defendant does not comply with the plaintiff’s wishes outlined in the demand letter, the next step in the process often involves the plaintiff’s attorney filing a formal complaint letter in the appropriate court. In the complaint letter, the plaintiff states who the defendant is they are taking legal action against. The facts of the case are also clearly outlined in the complaint letter, including how much money the plaintiff believes they should be paid by the defendant to resolve the legal matter. It’s also critical that the exact name and address of the plaintiff and the defendant are included in the complaint letter. Otherwise, the case could be dismissed by the presiding judge due to such an error.
- Response from the defendant – After the plaintiff files a complaint letter, the defendant has the right to respond to the letter. In most cases, the defendant has 21 days to respond to the plaintiff’s letter in Texas. The exception is if the defendant is the United States government or if the defendant is a federal employee. In such cases, the deadline for the defendant to respond to a complaint letter in Texas is 60 days.
- Common responses from defendant – There are several ways a defendant often responds to a plaintiff’s complaint letter. Such responses often include:
- No response – Some defendants choose to not respond to a complaint letter. If this happens, the plaintiff can ask the presiding judge to issue a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor. This rarely happens since most defendants often respond to a formal complaint letter.
- Motion to dismiss the lawsuit – This is a common request made by the defendant’s lawyer. A motion (a legal term meaning an application submitted to a court) to dismiss means the defendant is asking the presiding judge to throw out the lawsuit. Common reasons cited by a defendant may include lack of jurisdiction or insufficient evidence.
- Motion for a more definitive statement – Instead of filing a motion to dismiss a case due to lack of evidence, the defendant’s lawyer sometimes requests additional information from the plaintiff. In particular, the defendant’s lawyer might simply ask for more information explaining why the plaintiff is taking legal action against the defendant.
- File a counterclaim – The defendant may decide to file a lawsuit in response to a complaint letter. Such a lawsuit is often referred to as a counterclaim or counter lawsuit. This is a common tactic in many personal injury cases.
Depending on the defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s complaint letter, the next steps may include:
- Settle the lawsuit – Rather than going to trial, the plaintiff and the defendant may decide to settle the case out of court. This often occurs in many personal injury cases, especially if the defendant wants to avoid the negative publicity sometimes associated with a court trial.
- Prepare the case for trial – If both sides cannot resolve their legal dispute and do not settle the case out of court, the next step often involves preparing the case for trial. The first step in this process is known as the discovery stage. This step involves both sides sharing information that could come up at trial.
What happens if my lawsuit goes to trial?
Click here to download a printable version of What Happens If My Case Goes to Trial infographic.
If a judge and/or jury rules in favor of the plaintiff and orders the defendant to pay damages to the plaintiff, the defendant has several options:
- Pay the damages to the plaintiff.
- Appeal the case to a higher court.
If a judge and/or jury rules in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff can also choose to appeal the case to a higher court. All legal appeals must be filed within 30 days of a judge or jury’s decision in Texas.
How can a lawyer help?
While you do not have to hire a lawyer to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas, many people choose to do so for many different reasons. First and foremost, an experienced lawyer knows how the legal system works in Texas. This is very important since even the slightest mistake could end up in a court case being dismissed by a judge for a variety of reasons.
Your chances of success are also often significantly higher if you decide to hire a lawyer to represent you. That’s why it’s important to talk to an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas if you’re considering taking legal action in the state.
Smith & Hassler, Attorneys at Law, in Houston offers a free consultation to all prospective clients. To learn more about how we can help you with your particular case, simply contact us and schedule an appointment today with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers. We can answer your questions, explain your options and advise you on the best course of action, including filing a personal injury lawsuit.