How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Texas
San Antonio personal injury lawyer explains how the legal process works
If you have been hurt in a personal injury accident in San Antonio or another part of Texas, 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.
But how do you file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas? What’s the process? What are the deadlines? And who can file a personal injury lawsuit? All of these questions are important. That’s why it’s critical that you have the facts. That’s why we want to help.
Our experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at The Herrera Law Firm can aggressively fight for your rights. We know the laws that apply to personal injury accidents in Texas. We understand how the legal system works in Bexar County and other nearby communities. That’s why we have such a strong track record of success.
Where can I file a lawsuit?
It depends on which court has legal jurisdiction over your case. Depending on the circumstances, there may be several different courts where you could potentially file your claim:
- The court with jurisdiction over the location of the accident.
- The court with jurisdiction over your residence.
- The court with jurisdiction over the at-fault driver’s residence.
Deciding where to file your lawsuit can be much more complicated than many people might suspect. This is why it’s important to choose a lawyer familiar with the courts, jury pools, and judges in Bexar County and other jurisdictions in Texas.
What is the process for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Texas?
There are many important steps injury victims and their attorneys need to take in order to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas, including:
- Hire a personal injury lawyer – You don’t want to go into this process on your own. While you are legally allowed to file a lawsuit on your own behalf, it’s always best to get legal representation.
- Gather evidence in support of lawsuit – Evidence can cover a wide range, from medical bills, accident reports, inspection records or statements from witnesses who saw what happened.
- Send a demand letter – A demand letter explains why you (the plaintiff, the injured person taking legal action) believe the person or business who caused your accident (the defendant) is legally responsible. The demand letter should also state how much money you believe you should be compensated for your accident, along with a deadline for paying you that money.
- Send a complaint letter – If the defendant (or the defendant’s attorney) does not respond to your demand letter, the next step often involves sending a complaint letter to the court that has jurisdiction over your case. In your complaint letter, your lawyer will who you are taking legal action against and why. Your complaint letter should also state how much money you believe you should be compensated and the facts of your case.
- Wait for defendant’s response – The next step often involves waiting for the defendant to respond to your complaint letter. In Texas in most cases, the defendant has 21 days to respond to a complaint letter from the plaintiff. That deadline is 60 days, though, if the defendant is a federal employee or the United States government.
Common responses from defendant to complaint letter
What happens next depends on how the defendant responds to the complaint letter. Such responses often include:
- No response from defendant – In this situation, the plaintiff can ask the judge handling the legal case to issue a default judgment, which is a ruling in favor of the plaintiff. Default judgments are rare since most defendants respond to a formal complaint letter.
- File a counterclaim – The defendant may file a lawsuit in response to the complaint letter. This type of lawsuit is known as a counter lawsuit or counterclaim.
- Motion for a definitive statement – This simply means that the defendant wants more information from the plaintiff. Often, the defendant wants to know more about why the plaintiff is filing a lawsuit.
- Motion to dismiss – This means the defendant wants the presiding judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff. If the judge approves the motion to dismiss, the lawsuit will be terminated. If the judge does not approve the motion to dismiss, the lawsuit will still be valid and can continue to proceed through the legal system.
What happens next?
After the defendant has responded (or not responded) to the plaintiff’s complaint letter, both sides have two choices:
- Settle the lawsuit out of court before going to trial.
- Go to court and prepare the case for trial.
Most personal injury cases settle out of court, even after a lawsuit is filed; few actually go to trial. However, we are always ready to go to trial if that’s what it takes to get the best outcome for our client.
What happens if a lawsuit goes to trial?
If the case goes to trial, there are several steps:
- Discovery stage – This step involves both sides (the plaintiff and the defendant) sharing information with each other that could come up during the trial.
- Set trial date – Both sides and the presiding judge decide what date the trial should begin.
- Select the jury – Most personal injury trials are jury trials. The plaintiff’s and defendants’ lawyers decide who will serve on the jury.
Once the trial starts, steps include:
- Opening arguments – Both sides outline the details of their legal case.
- Evidence presented – Both sides present evidence in support of their legal case.
- Closing arguments – Both sides explain why they believe the judge or jury should rule in their favor.
- Verdict issued – The judge or jury rules in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant.
Remember, you can still reach a settlement at any point prior to the verdict.
What happens if the plaintiff wins?
If the judge or jury rules in favor of the plaintiff (the injury victim who filed the personal injury lawsuit), they will award damages, the legal term for financial compensation). This is money the defendant must pay the plaintiff.
In general, there are three different types of damages that can be awarded if the judge or jury rules in favor of the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit. Such damages include:
- Economic damages, which cover objectively measurable costs such as medical bills and lost wages.
- Non-economic damages, which cover indirect costs that do not have a specific monetary value, such as pain and suffering.
- Exemplary (punitive) damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for causing the injury and intended to send a message to society at large that such reckless or negligent behavior will not be tolerated.
What happens if the defendant wins?
If the judge or jury rules in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff can choose to accept the judge’s decision and the case is resolved. Or, the plaintiff can choose to appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court. If the plaintiff decides to file an appeal, the plaintiff has 30 days to do so in Texas. If the plaintiff does not file an appeal within 30 days, such a request for an appeal will likely be denied by the appellate court judge.
Who can file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas?
In most cases, only the person who was injured in a personal injury accident or their legal guardian can file a lawsuit. A notable exception to this rule involves wrongful death lawsuits, in which someone died as a result of a fatal personal injury accident. In such circumstances, surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Texas defines surviving family members as:
- Spouse of the deceased
- Parent of the deceased
- Children of the deceased
In addition, the executor of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit if an immediate family member does not file a lawsuit within three months of the person’s death.
How much is my lawsuit worth?
There’s no set dollar amount when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. Similar injuries or accidents might be worth very different amounts of money. Some might be worth thousands of dollars. Others might be worth millions.
The bottom line is injury victims should be compensated for all their injury-related expenses. That might sound simple. But there’s often a lot of debate about which expenses to include and how much such expenses add up to when making such calculations.
What expenses can I sue for?
If you get hurt in a personal injury accident, you can and should be financially compensated for all your injury-related expenses. Such expenses may include:
- Cost of all medical care related in your injury, including future anticipated medical expenses.
- Replacement income if you cannot work while you’re recovering from your injury.
- Future income if you cannot return to work in the future due to your injury.
- Money for property damaged in accident.
- Pain and suffering and other non-economic damages in some cases.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
The statute of limitations (legal deadline) for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Texas is usually two years from the date of the accident. For wrongful death lawsuits, the deadline is generally two years from the date of death. However, different deadlines can apply in some circumstances, and only an attorney can tell you which deadlines apply in your case.
If you miss a deadline, you could miss out on your only opportunity to obtain all the money you deserve for a lifetime’s worth of injury expenses due to your accident. So, the sooner you talk to a lawyer, the better.
Why should I hire a San Antonio personal injury attorney?
If you sustained a serious injury in an accident, the at-fault party responsible for compensating you (and their insurance company) will almost surely hire a lawyer to defend their actions and pay you as little as possible or nothing at all. This is especially true if your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial. Be prepared for a fierce legal battle.
Don’t be the only one without a lawyer at the negotiating table or in the courtroom. Make sure you give your personal injury lawsuit the best opportunity for success. Contact our law firm and schedule a free consultation with a San Antonio personal injury lawyer focused on winning your case.
We know what’s at stake at The Herrera Law Firm. We also realize your case is about more than just money. It’s about holding the person or business responsible for your accident accountable for their actions. We’re on your side and ready to fight for you.