If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, you may be curious about tort laws in Texas. As opposed to criminal wrongs, which are prosecuted by the state, tortious acts are settled in civil court between an injured plaintiff and an accused defendant. Mass tort claims are civil suits involving multiple plaintiffs who have all been injured by a corporation, business, or other organization. Typically, mass tort claims are filed for injuries caused by product malfunctions, medical devices, or environmental pollution. In 2017 and 2018, for example, Texas filed multiple mass tort lawsuits against producers of opioids and other addictive painkillers due to increased fatalities statewide. In mass tort cases, victims can band together to seek collective justice rather than filing individual personal injury claims.
While there are differences between personal injury and mass tort claims, the basic principle is the same: victims of negligent or dishonest individuals and/or entities deserve justice. While not every personal injury case will go to trial, a study by Jury Verdict Research found that the median settlement of personal injury cases in Texas is $22,630. These settlements go a long way toward helping victims and families rebuild their lives after a serious accident. It is important to familiarize yourself with the following Texas personal injury laws to understand your rights as a plaintiff in a mass tort case.
The concept of comparative fault is established in Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Chapter 33. Essentially, Texas utilizes a 50% modified comparative negligence rule. This rule specifies that an injured person can file a claim against other parties to recover damages only if the defendant is less than 50% at fault for their injuries. This means that even if you were partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, you could still file a claim to recover damages as long as your attorney can establish that the defendant’s comparative fault is greater than your own.
Joint and Several Liability
Joint and several liability is similar to comparative fault, but key differences exist. For example, the principle of joint and several liability allows for the possibility of multiple defendants in an injury claim. In terms of mass tort suits, if a doctor and medical parts manufacturer is found to be jointly responsible for multiple plaintiffs’ injuries, a mass tort claim can be filed against both these parties. The benefit of living in a state with joint and several liability is that victims can file claims against each individual, entity, or corporation that is responsible for their injuries, increasing the likelihood that accident victims will receive sufficient compensation to cover their losses.
No Statutory Damages on Economic or Non-Economic Losses
In some states, there are pre-established limits for damages victims can claim in a lawsuit. Texas has no statutory damages; as a result, accident or injury victims can claim the full worth of their economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses may include lost wages, expensive medical bills, and loss of wage-earning abilities. Non-economic losses encompass pain and suffering damages for both the victim and their family. It is important to note, however, that Texas has damage caps on punitive and medical malpractice damages.
Texas Tort Claims Act
The 1969 Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) determines the liability of state and local government for property damage or personal injury. In Texas, sovereign and governmental immunity prevents multiple taxpayer-funded claims against state and city governments. According to the TTCA, a governmental unit in Texas can only be held liable for damages if property damage, injury, or death was caused by a motor vehicle during the course of government employment. If you or a loved one were injured by a government vehicle or government employee operating a vehicle during their employment, you have the right to seek compensation from the Texas or city government.
Claiming Paid or Incurred Medical Costs
According to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Chapter 41, plaintiffs can only recover damages that they have paid for or incurred up to the date of the claim. For example, if the plaintiff has already received partial compensation for their injuries (say from their insurance policy), they are only eligible to recover what they paid out of pocket. However, even if the plaintiff has not actually paid for the full cost of their damages, as long as they have “incurred” the costs (i.e., these costs will need to be paid in the future), the defendant can still claim these damages in their injury claim. The defendant’s attorney will need to provide irrefutable proof of both their client’s paid and incurred costs.
Divisional Merger (i.e., “Texas Two-Step”)
Mass tort claims in Texas are infamous for resulting in corporations voluntarily restructuring and declaring bankruptcy in order to avoid large injury settlements (for example, the recent mass tort claim against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary LTL Management for injuries caused by cosmetic talcum powder). Unfortunately, if a large corporation restructures when facing a mass tort lawsuit, the victims filing the lawsuit may receive less compensation for their injuries if the restructured company’s assets are reduced. An experienced attorney can help accident victims file a claim against a restructured company to ensure they receive fair compensation for their losses.
Texas Business Liability Insurance Requirements
Unlike many other states, Texas does not require many forms of commercial insurance (including commercial general liability insurance). In addition, the state of Texas does not require that businesses or employers carry worker’s compensation insurance. This means that if the business is found guilty of negligence and they do not have a current commercial general liability policy, they are responsible for covering victims’ damages out-of-pocket. In reality, however, many businesses carry some liability insurance to protect themselves from expensive lawsuits. Plaintiffs involved in mass tort claims may receive compensation from a business’ liability insurance policy to cover their damages.
While businesses are not required to carry the above policies, the state of Texas does have strict requirements on auto insurance. If a business owns a vehicle used for company shipping and/or transportation, the state of Texas requires them to carry commercial auto insurance policies that cover at least $30,000 personal injury liability (per victim), $60,000 personal injury liability (per accident), and $25,000 in property damage liability. Therefore, if you were injured by a commercial driver or an employee operating a company vehicle, the employer’s commercial auto insurance should cover the cost of your personal injury and property damage losses.
How Much Can Someone Sue For an Injury in Texas?
There are no damage caps for general personal injury lawsuits in Texas. This means that personal injury victims can claim as much compensation as the defendant agrees to settle for or the jury decides to award. Texas law allows accident victims to claim economic and non-economic damages in their personal injury lawsuits. Because serious accidents can result in severe physical injury, loss of employment, or chronic pain and disability, it is common for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to be awarded to victims.
There are some exceptions to this general lack of damage caps, however. For example, Texas tort law caps the damages victims can claim in medical malpractice injury lawsuits. In medical malpractice suits in Texas, victims can only claim up to $750,000. The intention behind capping these damages is to protect medical providers and physicians from overly litigious patients. However, this can sometimes result in victims of true malpractice not receiving adequate compensation for their injuries. Depending on the type of personal injury claim you file, you may find that there are damage caps like these. It is important to consult with an experienced tort injury attorney for an accurate estimate of the damages you can receive.
Another limitation plaintiffs may find if they are filing an injury claim in Texas is a cap on punitive damages. Punitive damages are calculated in addition to the victim’s economic and non-economic injuries and are intended to punish extreme negligence. In Texas, plaintiffs can claim twice their economic losses (up to $200,000) and the equal of their non-economic losses (up to $750,000) in punitive damages. It is important to note that plaintiffs will not be awarded punitive damages unless they have already been awarded other damages.
The Statute of Limitations in Texas
Texas’ statutes of limitation for different civil claims are specified in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 16.002(a). In Texas, the statute of limitations for filing a civil suit for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death is two years from the date of injury. In terms of mass tort claims, victims can only join an ongoing mass tort claim if they sustain injuries within this two-year deadline. For example, if you are joining a mass tort claim against a Texas company for manufacturer negligence, you would need to prove that you were injured by their products no more than two years before the claim is filed.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Texas
If you or a loved one are interested in filing a personal injury or mass tort lawsuit, multiple resources can provide you with more information. The following organizations exist to support accident victims and connect them with legal, financial, and informational resources. Additionally, if you are looking to join a mass tort lawsuit, there may be information online regarding who to contact and any deadlines for the specific lawsuit.
Care for Accident Victims
The Center for Accident Resources and Empowerment (C.A.R.E.) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to supporting accident victims and their families. C.A.R.E. provides support resources to victims of medical malpractice, workplace accidents, bad faith insurance, auto accidents, and more. These resources can help accident victims get in contact with qualified attorneys, learn more about their right to fair compensation, and, in some cases, access financial support to cover the costs of their recovery. To learn more about resources that can help you get the justice you deserve, fill out C.A.R.E.’s contact form.
The Mass Tort Trial Lawyers Association
Before you file your claim, it is important to find an experienced mass tort injury attorney to protect your best interests throughout settlement negotiations or litigation. The Mass Tort Trial Lawyers Association is an organization that provides attorneys with mentors and practical knowledge and guides plaintiffs to local mass tort attorneys. If a qualified injury lawyer has not reviewed your case, visit the Mass Tort Trial Lawyers Association’s Find a Lawyer page to find an experienced mass tort attorney in Texas.
Environmental Protection Agency
One of the most common causes of mass tort injury claims is environmental pollution caused by commercial manufacturing. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exists to help keep our nation’s environment healthy and safe. While reporting a company’s environmental crimes to the EPA won’t necessarily guarantee you will receive compensation for your injuries, it is one important step to keep negligent business owners accountable for their harm to the community. Visit the EPA’s website to report an environmental violation.
Texas Law Help
Finally, there are legal sources that exist solely to help Texans seeking legal assistance. Texas Law Help’s website (Texaslawhelp.org) is managed by the Texas Legal Services Center and visited by an average of 4 million people every year. They offer plaintiffs and defendants free self-help options, including guided forms and informative articles. Additionally, their Legal Help Directory helps accident victims find attorneys by specialty and county.
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