If you were in a car accident, motorcycle accident, trucking accident, were injured at work, or had a botched medical procedure, you may have a valid personal injury legal claim.
This post will help you understand the basics of a successful personal injury case, but it is not a substitute for talking to a personal injury lawyer. Only a qualified attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and tell you whether you have a valid personal injury case.
What is a “Personal Injury” Lawsuit?
A personal injury lawsuit is a case that is filed in civil court by someone who was injured as a result of someone else’s conduct. The person who files the lawsuit is called a “plaintiff” and the party the lawsuit is filed against is called the “defendant.”
The goal of a personal injury lawsuit is to obtain financial compensation for the injuries and other losses that the plaintiff suffered.
There are two ways a personal injury case can be resolved. The case can be tried to a jury or judge. However, it is more likely that the case will be settled out of court during settlement negotiations between the parties.
To maximize the amount of financial compensation you receive and protect your legal interests, we suggest you hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to represent you.
Types of Cases that May Warrant a Personal Injury Claim
A personal injury case may be pursued when the negligence or wrongful act of one party leads to the harm of another. Common types of personal injury cases include:
- Car accidents;
- Truck accidents;
- Bus and commercial vehicle crashes;
- Motorcycle crashes;
- Bicycle crashes;
- Pedestrian accidents;
- Boating accidents;
- Aviation accidents;
- Slip and fall claims;
- Nursing home accidents;
- Medical malpractice;
- Premises liability;
- Negligent security;
- Defective product;
- Workplace accidents;
- Defective medical products/medication; and
- Dog bites.
A personal injury claim can be filed against a person, business, entity, or organization.
Do I Have a Case for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
To have a personal injury case, you must prove that the negligence of another party led to you sustaining an injury and damages. To determine whether you may be able to recover damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit, you should start by asking yourself these three questions:
- Did you suffer a serious personal injury?
- Can you prove negligence?
- Do you have recoverable damages?
To collect damages in a personal injury case, you must prove that an actual injury occurred. In most circumstances, this means that you must have sustained a physical injury in order to file suit for negligence.
After an accident, it’s critical to see a doctor right away. There is nothing more important than a person’s health and a person’s health can very much be in jeopardy following an accident. As a result, we strongly suggest that you get checked out if you are in pain. If something serious is wrong, a doctor can help you make sure that the issue gets addressed.
Your medical records will be important evidence regarding the extent of your injuries. If you delay getting medical treatment for your injuries, an insurance adjuster, judge, or jury may have a hard time believing that you were truly injured in the accident. The other party may argue that your injury was not caused by their negligent conduct, but by a later, unrelated event. This can cause you to lose your personal injury case altogether.
What Is Negligence and How Does it Affect a Personal Injury Claim in Texas?
Negligence is the failure to act with the proper duty of care. When a professional, such as a doctor, commits an act of negligence, the negligence is called malpractice. An act is “negligent” when it falls outside of scope of something that a reasonable person–or a person of similar background and training–would do in the same situation. Negligence may also be a breach of the law, and therefore is different for each type of case. Consider the following types of accidents, laws, acts of negligence, and rules of liability–
- Pedestrian laws. Pedestrians have different laws than do drivers, and as such, a pedestrian may act negligently in a completely different manner than a driver might. For example, in Texas, pedestrians are required to yield to vehicles when traffic lights indicate that they do so, must use a sidewalk when one is available, and are asked to keep to the right half of a crosswalk when possible, amongst other things.
If a pedestrian crosses somewhere other than a crosswalk, steps from the sidewalk in front of a vehicle unexpectedly, or fails to yield when they should, they are acting negligently. Keep in mind that other things that are not specifically addressed by the law–such as using a mobile device while walking–may also be acts of negligence.
- Driving laws. Drivers also have laws that they are required to follow. For example, drivers are not permitted to drive with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level of .08 percent or above, are asked to follow the speed limit, and have a number of laws regarding yielding, turning, and proceeding through intersections.
If a driver breaks one of these laws and the default leads to a crash, they can be held liable. However, just like pedestrians, drivers can also be held liable when they commit an act of negligence that is not explicitly illegal, such as driving after having a drink (even if BAC is not at .08 percent or above), or driving too fast for conditions.
- Motorcycling laws. In order to get a motorcycle license in Texas, you have to agree to follow all motorcycle laws. These laws include, but are not limited to, wearing a helmet (with certain exceptions), riding a motorcycle that is equipped with required equipment, never operating a motorcycle with a BAC of .08 percent or greater, and following all posted motorcycle and traffic laws.
Even when something is not illegal, such as not wearing a helmet, if it is unsafe and its act contributes to an injury (i.e. the motorcyclist is not wearing a helmet and suffers a head injury as such), this can affect recoverable damages.
- Premises liability laws. Property owners in Texas are required to maintain properties in a reasonably safe condition. If a dangerous condition exists on a property, the property owner is required to correct it within a reasonable amount of time.
If they fail to do so, and an injury occurs as a result, the property owner can be held liable. The only exception to this is as it pertains to trespassers – in Texas, property owners have no duty to trespassers but to prevent from causing willful or wanton harm.
- Dram shop and social host liability laws. If an establishment sells alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person in Texas, and the intoxicated person then causes harm to another, the establishment may be held partially liable under the state’s dram shop laws.
A host of a party or other social situation may also be held liable when a person causes injury to another if the party who caused the injury is under 18 years old and the party who served the alcohol knowingly provided alcohol to a minor and is not the minor’s parent, guardian, or spouse.
- Attractive nuisance doctrine. Another important law to understand is the doctrine of attractive nuisance. This law pertains to premises liability claims that involve trespassing children. While property owners typically do not owe a strong duty of care to trespassers, as mentioned above, when children are involved, the doctrine of attractive nuisance applies.
This means that a property owner may be held liable for injuries sustained by a trespassing child when the property is one on which children are likely to trespass, the cause of the injury is a condition that the owner knew or should have known would be attractive to children, and the child harmed, due to their age, was unable to comprehend the dangers of the property and dangerous condition on the property.
How Can You Prove Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?
The basis of a personal injury lawsuit is a claim (or claims) for negligence. Using evidence, you must be able to prove the following elements:
- The defendant owed a legal duty to you.
- The defendant breached that duty to you.
- The defendant’s breach was the legal cause (“proximate cause”) of your injuries.
- You suffered damages as a result of this breach.
Under Texas law, people and companies generally have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable injury of others. There are some special scenarios when this standard is higher.
Breach of Duty
The next element of a negligence claim is establishing that the defendant breached this legal duty. Sometimes, it is possible to satisfy this element by showing that the defendant broke the law. This is a legal concept known as negligence per se.
Next, you have to prove that the defendant’s conduct was sufficiently related to your injury. The legal test applied is whether your injuries were foreseeable as a result of the defendant’s conduct. For example, you might argue in a motorcycle accident case that the broken bones you suffered were a foreseeable result of the at-fault party’s drunk driving. Proximate cause would be satisfied here.
You must have suffered harm that can be compensated by the payment of money damages. In Texas, you may be partially at fault and still recover damages because Texas is a “comparative negligence” state. According to Texas statute, however, the injured party cannot collect damages if their percentage of responsibility for the injury is greater than 50 percent.
A personal injury lawyer can collect evidence to help prove another party’s negligence. Some types of evidence that may help prove negligence include:
- If you were in a serious car accident, pictures of damage to the vehicles, road debris, street conditions at the time of the accident, and any relevant signs or lights can help prove negligence. If you slipped and fell at a residence or business, take a picture of what caused you to fall.
- Testimony from eyewitnesses can also help prove negligence. It is important to get the names and contact information of any eyewitnesses at the scene of the accident. In more complex personal injury lawsuits, you may need expert testimony on certain issues.
- Police reports, medical records, and business records can be critical evidence of negligence. A lawyer can help you obtain these reports and records through a legal process known as “discovery.”
Recovering Damages in a Texas Personal Injury Lawsuit
Personal injury lawsuits in Texas are used to recover the value of losses suffered by the plaintiff, or injured party. Plaintiffs in Texas can seek damages for all types of losses suffered, including economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those actual damages suffered by a plaintiff, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are damages for intangible losses, such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress. In some cases, damages to punish the defendant, called punitive damages, are also recoverable.
To have a case for a lawsuit, you must be able to prove the “damages” element of negligence discussed above. Some of the damages that can be recovered in a Texas personal injury case include:
- Medical expenses. The cost of your past and future medical treatment, which can be established through accurate medical records and testimony from doctors.
- Lost earning capacity or wages. Lost wages are the actual lost wages up to the date of trial or settlement. You must keep accurate records of any time you had to take off work as a result of your injuries. Lost earning capacity is the lost potential future income because of your injuries and need for ongoing medical care. Evidence that can be used to prove lost earning capacity includes a record of jobs held in the past, salary history, tax records, and education transcripts. Experts may testify at trial that because of your injury, completing certain tasks required for a job are no longer possible.
- Physical pain and emotional suffering. It is important to keep records about pain and suffering experienced after an accident. Keeping detailed medical records can help prove damages. Expert medical witness testimony at a trial can also help establish physical pain and suffering and the amount of compensation to which you are entitled as a result.
- Mental anguish. To recover damages for mental anguish, you must provide evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of their mental anguish and show that it caused a substantial disruption in your daily routine.
- Punitive damages. If the other party acted with malice, which is an intent to injure, or gross negligence, which is when a person or company shows a conscious disregard for the health and safety of others, you may be able to recover punitive damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand if this might be available in your personal injury case.
Some states place caps on the amount that can be awarded in personal injury cases. Under Texas statute, caps apply to medical malpractice awards and to certain types of punitive damage awards.
What are the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Personal Injury Claim in Texas?
If you think that you may have a personal injury suit based on the information above, it is important to bring forth your claim as soon as possible. In all cases, however, you must bring your personal injury claim forth within two years from the date of injury. If you wait longer than two years time to bring forth a personal injury claim, you will be barred from recovering damages indefinitely.
Do You Have a Personal Injury Case? Sutliff & Stout Can Help
If you were injured in Houston or the surrounding areas and believe that you have a case, a personal injury attorney at Sutliff & Stout can help you determine your options. To speak with an experienced accident lawyer about your personal injury case, call or text our office anytime at 281-853-8446. We look forward to serving you.