As a personal injury law firm in Houston, we have found that many clients will ask the same questions during their initial case review meeting or at later pre-trial interview. On this page, the personal injury lawyer at the Doan law Firm of Midland will answer what we have come to call the “Big Three” questions most often asked about Texas personal injury lawsuits.
Under Texas law, Who Can File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Texas civil law grants to the injured party the exclusive right to file a personal injury lawsuit, meaning that the person who was injured must be the one to initiate any civil action. There are, however, certain situations where the right to file a lawsuit may become vested in someone other than the person who was injured. These exceptional circumstances include:
When the injured party is a minor, defined as being under the age of 18, a parent or legal guardian may file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of the injured party. However, if the injured party has been “emancipated” (declared to be an adult) by marriage or by successfully petitioning a court for an order of emancipation, a person under the age of 18 may sue on their own behalf.
If an adult was injured so severely that there is no reasonable hope of a full recovery, or if an adult who was injured had previously been deemed by a court as being unable to care for themselves for any reason, that person’s legal guardian may sue on behalf of an injured adult.
If an accidental injury resulted in death, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Houston usually rests with (and in order of priority) the victim’s spouse, the victim’s children, or the victim’s natural parents. Additionally, an adopted child may sue over the death of an adoptive parent. However, an adopted child may not sue over the death of a biological parent. If any person having the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit has not done so within three months of the date of death a representative of the victim’s estate, or the executor of the estate, may file unless specifically asked not to do so by a “higher-ranking” relative of the deceased.
Is it Ever “Too Late” to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Texas?
In a word, “yes,” but this answer also requires a more specific explanation.
Texas law has established “time limits” known as statutes of limitations that specify how long after an injury or some other loss that a plaintiff (the person who files a lawsuit) must file a lawsuit or forever lose that right.
In most types of Texas personal injury lawsuits, a plaintiff must file within two years of the date on which the alleged injury occurred. There are, however, several important “if” exceptions to this rule.
If the injured party was younger than 18 years old, at the time of the alleged injury, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim’s 18th birthday.
If it is alleged that an injury or death was due to an act of medical malpractice, a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the alleged malpractice unless the malpractice was not discovered until a later date. In these situations, the statute of limitations “clock” begins on the date that the malpractice was first discovered.
If the personal injury is due to a sexual assault, sexual battery, compelling child prostitution, or to any other civil offense and the victim was under the age of 18 years at the time the offense occurred, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim reaches their 18th birthday.
If a potential plaintiff is held to have been unable to file a lawsuit due to legal disability such as mental illness, the statute of limitations begins on the date the disability was removed by a court.
Also note than if criminal charges and a civil lawsuit are brought against the same individual or group, the verdict in one case has no bearing on the other case (remember how the O.J. Simpson murder case ended in acquittal but the O.J. Simpson wrongful death case led to a finding that Simpson was liable for the wrongful deaths of his former wife and Ron Goldman?).
Is There a Limit on the Amount of an Award in a Personal Injury Case?
In theory, there is no upper limit of the amount of damages that can be awarded in either type of case. There are limits that are imposed by law depending on the type of damages awarded.
Texas law sometimes places a “cap” or “upper limit” on what are called non-economic damages. These are damages that are awarded for the “pain and suffering” experienced by the injured party or by the injured party’s survivors or those damages that are intended to punish the offending party. Under Texas civil law, in some cases non-economic damages cannot exceed a total of $250,000.
There is currently no cap or limit on the amount of “actual,” or “real” economic damages in the Texas courts.