Filing a personal injury lawsuit is often a necessary move in Texas if you want to claim the maximum compensation for an injury that was the fault of another party.
It may be clear to you that your injuries were due to another party’s negligence or recklessness but insurance companies fight tooth and nail to avoid liability or reduce the amount of compensation they must pay.
While nine out of ten cases are eventually settled out of court without a trial, filing a lawsuit is often the best strategy to enforce action.
But how do you file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas? Can anyone in your family file? How long do you have to file it? What happens after the paperwork is submitted to the court?
If you’re going to file a lawsuit in Texas, it pays to understand how the claims process and lawsuits work here.
Who can file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas?
In accidents involving an injury, only the injured party can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party in Texas.
The same doesn’t apply to fatal accidents. The person killed cannot follow up with a claim, so a close member of the family (spouse, parent or child) usually files a wrongful death lawsuit based on the fact that they were at least partly financially dependent on the deceased.
If immediate family members do not file a lawsuit within three months of the death, the executor of the deceased person’s estate may file a claim on behalf of the estate.
Learn More → Can I claim compensation for a pedestrian accident injury in Texas?
What compensation can you claim in Texas?
You can claim for both economic and noneconomic losses in the past, present and future in Texas — providing you can prove that the losses are directly related to the injuries from an accident.
Economic losses include:
- All medical expenses related to your injury, including all future medical expenses such as follow-up surgery, physical therapy, prescription medications, etc.
- Property damage caused in the accident e.g., car repairs/replacement
- Modifications to your home for disability, if applicable
- Loss of income due to inability to work after your accident
- Future loss of income, if you expect to miss work in the future because of your injury
Non-economic (“general”) damages include:
- Psychological and emotional losses, such as pain and suffering caused by the accident
- Loss of consortium or quality of life due to the accident injuries
Non-economic losses especially are often challenged by insurance companies as they can be significant (there is no cap in Texas) and are more difficult to prove.
Is there a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit?
You generally have two years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas. The same period applies to a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal accident (you have two years from the date of death).
This two-year deadline is known as the statute of limitations and is applied quite rigorously in Texas. If you miss the deadline, it’s usually not possible to file a personal injury lawsuit here.
Where can you file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas?
Personal injury lawsuits are generally considered civil court cases in Texas. Cases get filed in the civil courts rather than the criminal courts — that usually means the local district court in Texas but it is not always a straightforward choice.
A plaintiff in Texas can file the lawsuit in any of the following three different jurisdictions:
- The district court with jurisdiction over the accident location
- The district court with jurisdiction over where the plaintiff lives
- The district court with jurisdiction over where the defendant lives or does business
It’s best to discuss your options with your personal injury lawyer as there may be pros and cons of each, which they can advise you on.
For small claims, with an estimated value of between $200 and $10,000, plaintiffs can file the claim in a county-level court.
If a federal law has been violated and the defendant lives or does business in another state, a judge may rule that the case should be heard in the federal courts but this is quite rare in personal injury cases in Texas. High-value cases (over $75,000 in damages) are more likely to be heard in federal courts than lower-value ones.
How does the personal injury lawsuit process work in Texas?
Once you have discussed your options with your personal injury lawyer, you may decide to proceed with a lawsuit. From there, you will likely go through the following steps:
- Evidence-gathering: an investigation is launched, during which evidence is gathered, including accident reports, medical records, inspection reports, witness statements, etc.
- Submit a demand letter: your lawyer writes a letter explaining why the defendant is responsible for the accident and how much money you believe you should receive in compensation (with a deadline for payment pending legal action).
- File a complaint letter in court: if there is no positive response from the defendant, your attorney files a formal complaint letter in court, explaining why legal action is necessary and how much compensation is demanded.
- Defendant response: the defendant usually has 21 days to respond to the complaint letter, unless he/she is a federal employee (60 days). Common responses from the defendant include:
- No response: in which case, a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor may be issued.
- Motion to dismiss the lawsuit: a common request made by the defendant’s lawyer, asking the judge to throw out the lawsuit due to a lack of jurisdiction, insufficient evidence or another reason.
- Motion for a more definitive statement: this essentially requests that the plaintiff submits more information explaining the legal action against the defendant.
- File a counterclaim: the defendant may decide to file a counter lawsuit against the plaintiff.
From here, the lawsuit may be dismissed by the judge, settled by negotiation or mediation or proceed to trial. Few personal injury cases end up going to trial in Texas as the potential reputational damage and legal costs for the defendant can be significant.
If the case does go to trial, there will be a discovery process where both sides share information that could come up at trial. A date will be set and both sides will prepare for the trial.
How can a personal injury lawyer help?
You can file a lawsuit in Houston without a personal lawyer but few people would attempt to do so.
An experienced personal injury lawyer like Ryan DeHoyos knows how the local justice system in Houston works. He understands the steps to take to reduce delays and knows how to deal with tough-negotiating insurance companies. Small procedural errors or mistakes with the paperwork can even lead to cases being dismissed.
A skilled personal injury lawyer ensures you get a fair hearing and the best chance of maximum compensation for your losses.
Contact us at DeHoyos Law Firm, PLLC today for a free consultation to evaluate your case. We will be happy to answer your questions, explain your options and advise you on how to file a personal injury lawsuit if that is the best course of action. Call us directly at (832) 745-4878 .