Personal injury law applies to cases wherein an individual is harmed, usually because of another person’s negligence. This is one thing that sets it apart from criminal law; in personal injury lawsuits, negligence or strict liability is usually the source of the harm instead of criminal activity. Personal injury suits also fall under civil law, which means that a private party is suing another party, unlike criminal law, wherein the government is the one pressing charges. It constitutes the largest category of civil lawsuits, as it covers vast circumstances.
In Texas, some leading causes of personal injury include dog bites, slips and falls, vehicular collisions, construction accidents, and medical malpractice. This article will discuss the laws safeguarding the civil rights of Texans in the event that they suffer a personal injury. You will also learn about the specifics and exceptions regarding damage caps and statutes of limitation for Texas personal injury cases.
Medical Malpractice Laws in Texas
According to data collected by the National Practitioner Data Bank in 2022, Texas was only second to California when it came to states with the most medical malpractice reports. The NPDB recorded a total of 3,508 adverse action reports in the Lone Star State within that year, a mere two reports behind California’s 3,510.
However, Texas had a much lower medical malpractice payment report, with only 584 reported payments compared to California’s 1,059. This meant that despite the relatively close figures when it came to the number of reports, Texans in 2022 were less likely to receive payments for their medical malpractice claims.
Medical malpractice in Texas is governed by Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. It states that the victim must be able to prove that their injury was a result of the medical practitioner’s negligence, which may fall under any of the following categories:
Failure to warn. Doctors must warn patients about known risks associated with medications and procedures.
Misdiagnosis. This applies when a doctor diagnoses a patient with a condition they do not have or fails to diagnose an existing condition when the patient asks for an examination.
Negligent treatment. This refers to failure to deliver the standard medical care expected from healthcare practitioners and often stems from careless mistakes.
When filing a medical malpractice suit, victims must also find an expert witness who can testify in court that the defendant was indeed negligent in fulfilling their medical duties. However, remember that the law recognizes sovereign immunity, which means that a victim generally cannot recover monetary damages when suing government entities.
Car Accident Laws in Texas
Car accidents are common in Texas. The Lone Star State had the most fatal car accidents out of any state in 2022, with a total of 4,496 deadly crashes. According to the traffic crash facts released by the Texas Department of Transportation for that same year, one crash occurred every 57 seconds, and one person lost their life in a car accident every 1 hour and 57 minutes. Not a single day in that year passed without a roadway fatality.
When it comes to determining liability for a car accident, Texas follows the at-fault system. This means drivers must pay for the damages they caused, and the at-fault driver’s insurance provider usually shoulders these payments. Texans who wish to purchase a car are required by law to buy a car insurance policy that meets the “30/60/25” minimum requirement for car accidents.
The modified comparative fault applies to car accident lawsuits in Texas. Under this rule, if you are found to be partially at fault for the accident, the monetary compensation you will receive will be reduced proportionally to the amount of fault you share for the accident. Additionally, if the court determines that your fault in the accident exceeds 50%, you are barred from recovering damages.
DUI in Texas
Texas follows a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to DUI cases. A drunk driver who injures someone in a car crash can be charged with a third-degree felony, which comes with a fine of up to $10,000 and two to 10 years of imprisonment. If the victim sustains a brain injury from the accident, the offense is raised to a second-degree felony and the maximum prison term is increased to 20 years.
The state has a special compensation program for DUI victims, known as The Crime Victims’ Compensation Program. DUI counts as a serious crime in Texas, and victims can apply for reimbursement for expenses such as lost earnings, funeral costs, and medical bills.
However, the victim must be able to prove that they did not contribute to the DUI incident. The program is also limited to victims without any other source of compensation, and the most they can recover from it is $50,000, which is lower than what a victim can recover from filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Texas Dram Shop Law
According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, an establishment that has been granted a license to sell alcohol within the state may be held responsible for the damages caused by an intoxicated individual.
To pursue legal action against the bar or any business that serves alcohol, there must be sufficient evidence that it has continued to serve an intoxicated person. However, all parties involved must note that a dram shop lawsuit does not nullify the drunk driver’s responsibility for the accident they have caused.
People hosting parties within their own properties, also known as “social hosts,” are generally excluded from this law unless the drunk individual who caused the accident paid for their alcohol. This immunity is waived if the individual overserved is below 18 years of age. The legal age of drinking is 21 years old.
Product Liability Laws in Texas
In Texas, product liability suits fall under the strict liability doctrine. This means that victims do not need to prove negligence, and if a product caused their injuries, the defendant is liable for their damages.
One notable exception applies to defective pharmaceuticals, wherein manufacturers may dodge liability if they use an FDA-approved warning. However, they can still be sued if it can be proven that they hid information from the FDA.
Product liability actions require the victim to prove that they were using the product according to its intended use when they sustained the injury. Additionally, if the defendant can prove that their product complies with the mandatory safety standards and regulations prescribed by the federal government, they may be able to avoid liability.
Premises Liability Laws in Texas
In Texas, property owners are legally responsible for keeping their premises safe for visitors. Visitors are classified into three categories:
Invitees. This refers to individuals who enter the premises for the mutual benefit of both parties, such as commercial patrons;
Licensees. This refers to individuals who enter the premises for their own benefit, such as social guests;
Trespassers. This refers to individuals who enter a premises, typically private properties, without the owner’s permission.
Trespassers do not have the same rights to pursue a premises liability lawsuit, as they do not have permission to be within the premises to begin with. The only duty owed to them by the property owner is to avoid willfully causing injury.
An exception may apply to child trespassers if the injury resulted from a hazardous condition that can be considered attractive to children. This principle is known as “the law of attractive nuisance,” and it requires property owners to take necessary measures to bar children from accessing such hazards.
The open and obvious doctrine also applies to premises liability cases in Texas. If the hazard is considered open and obvious, the owner may not be liable for the victim’s injuries.
Dog Bite Laws in Texas
Texas is one of the states that follow the one-bite rule, which means that the dog bite victim must be able to prove that the owner was negligent in handling their dog to receive compensation. Usually, a previous dog bite incident is enough grounds to place responsibility on the owner to take extra caution.
In cases wherein the dog can be proven dangerous because it already bit someone before, strict liability may also apply. Under these circumstances, the victim no longer needs to prove negligence. Landlords may also be held responsible for dog bite claims if they fail to ensure the rental premises are free from dangerous dogs.
Texas Business Liability Insurance Requirements
The Texas Department of Insurance provides resources for the insurance needs of businesses within the state. However, unlike most other states, most private companies in Texas are not required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Meanwhile, business entities who wish to work with local governments for projects must offer coverage for the staff members involved in the project.
Employers who do not carry workers’ compensation are required by the law to undertake the following actions:
Inform new employees in writing that they do not have workers’ compensation coverage;
Post notices within employment premises;
Submit a yearly notice to the TDI’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Texas employers must also take note that coverage obtained through unregulated insurance providers cannot be considered workers’ compensation. They must make sure that the DWC has verified the policy.
Commercial Auto Insurance
In Texas, businesses are required to have commercial auto insurance on their vehicles. The minimum coverage requirements are as follows:
$30,000 bodily injury liability per individual;
$60,000 bodily injury liability per accident;
$25,000 property damage liability per accident.
Additionally, even though the law does not require it, business owners should obtain hired and non-owned auto insurance for personal vehicles used for work purposes. Personal auto policies will not cover any vehicular accident that takes place while the automobile is being used for business purposes.
How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Texas?
Personal injury victims in Texas have the right to sue for economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic damages cover lost wages and capacity to earn, medical costs, and property damage, while non-economic damages include general inconvenience, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional pain.
The upper limit for punitive damages in Texas is $200,000 or twice the calculated economic damages, whichever is higher. Damages that can be recovered from government entities are also limited to $250,000 per individual and $500,000 per accident. Additionally, the maximum recoverable amount in non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases is capped at $750,000.
There are no limits on how much a personal injury victim can recover in economic damages, and they can receive as much compensation as they have paid out or owed due to the injury.
The Statute of Limitations in Texas
The standard statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Texas is two years, with the following exceptions:
The victim is under a legal disability. This refers to victims who were underage when the incident that caused the injury occurred. The countdown only begins once the victim turns 18 years old, which means they have until the age of 20 to file a claim.
The injury is subject to the discovery rule. There are cases wherein the victim was not immediately aware that they had suffered an injury, in which case the statute of limitations only comes into effect after the victim discovers the injury.
Medical malpractice. The discovery rule applies, but there is a 10-year statute of repose. This limit disregards the date of discovery and bars anyone from filing a case once 10 years have already passed since the date of the injury.
Product liability. Victims have two years from the date of discovery of the injury caused by a product or 15 years from the date of sale of the product.
Absent defendant. If the defendant has fled the state to evade the lawsuit, the statute of limitations is paused until the defendant is found or returns to the state.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Texas
The Dallas Bar Association, founded in 1873, is committed to initiatives that enhance public service and the administration of justice. It sponsors a LegalLine clinic every Wednesday from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., where volunteer attorneys address legal inquiries for free. Slots are limited, and registration closes on Tuesdays at 12 noon. The DBA’s website provides an updated link to the registration form each week.
Texas Free Legal Answers is a service provided by the American Bar Association. The virtual legal clinic provides qualified users a means to post their civil, non-criminal legal questions for free, which will be then answered by legal professionals within the state. It addresses inquiries on employment and unemployment, consumer rights, and disability.
Managed by the Texas Legal Services Center, TexasLawHelp.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that emphasizes delivering free and reliable legal information to low-income Texans. It provides resources on qualifying for legal aid and relevant information on what you must expect when working with private attorneys. Guide overviews for county-specific courts are also available on its website.
The El Paso Dispute Resolution Center has resolved hundreds of cases since its foundation in 1988. Its mediation services provide a more economical and less time-consuming alternative for those who wish to settle their legal disputes without going to court. The centerer’s facilities are wheelchair accessible, and parties seeking resolution can opt to conduct the mediation process in English and Spanish. It mediates matters involving personal injury, threats and assaults, consumer and merchant disputes, and uninsured motorists.
CARE for Accident Victims is a nonprofit organization that provides a network of support and guidance to individuals and families navigating the aftermath of an accident. The organization helps those who have been injured as a result of vehicular collisions, workplace accidents, and medical malpractice. It also offers resources on wrongful deaths and bad faith insurance.
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