In short, personal injury law is the set of laws in a state that hold an individual accountable for their actions or inactions that resulted in the injury of another individual. In a successful personal injury claim, the party that was harmed (i.e. the plaintiff) will be compensated for their injuries or losses by the party that caused them harm (i.e. the defendant).
In a typical claim for personal injury, a plaintiff will make a claim that they have sustained an injury or loss due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. This injury or harm can be either mental, physical, or both. If the plaintiff is successful in their civil lawsuit, the court may award them monetary damages for their personal injury.
Mental health injuries can include emotional pain and anguish caused by an accident, while physical injuries generally include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the body. Further, an injury can also manifest itself later in time, and still be included in a damages claim. These damages are commonly referred to as future damages, and expressed in a damages claim as future medical bills and expenses.
How Do Personal Injuries Occur?
Personal injuries sometimes occur intentionally, such as when a defendant deliberately injures someone or intends to commit an act that results in injury. An intentional injury occurs when one person’s deliberate act or intent to commit an act results in the injury of another individual.
Oftentimes intentional injuries are also simultaneously prosecuted criminally, in addition to a plaintiff bringing a civil lawsuit for the personal injuries they suffered. For example, when a defendant commits criminal battery, assault, or false imprisonment, the victim may also bring a civil lawsuit to compensate them for the resulting injuries.
Personal injuries may also occur unintentionally. In fact, the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits deal with unintentional injuries. The legal theory for an unintentional injury is based on negligence. Some common examples of common negligence cases include auto accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from malpractice.
In essence, the legal theory of negligence asserts that the defendant injured the plaintiff as a result of breaching their duty of care to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can successfully show that the defendant’s breach caused them injury that resulted in damages, the plaintiff would have made a successful claim for negligence and be able to recover losses from the defendant.
What Is the Duty of Care?
In short, the duty of care is a legal responsibility that is imposed on individuals that requires them to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing acts that could foreseeable result in the harm of others. As can be seen by the broad definition, the duty of care that is owed to a specific person will depend on the circumstances of each specific case. In general, a defendant has a legal duty to exercise the same degree of care that an ordinary person would use under a similar set of facts.
For example, if an individual is driving their vehicle on a highway in non-inclement weather, they have a duty to follow all of the motor vehicle laws similar to other drivers. This means that if an individual fails to signal when changing lanes or is exceeding the speed limit they will likely be found to breach their duties owed to the other drivers.
If an individual is driving their vehicle on a one-lane road, and the weather outside is stormy and inclement, then they will likely owe a greater duty of care. This means that in stormy weather conditions, an individual must exercise the degree of care that is appropriate for inclement weather.
What Are Some Common Personal Injury Lawsuits in Texas?
As noted above, personal injury law encompasses a very broad category of laws. The same is true in Texas, as personal injury lawsuits in Texas can involve a variety of different legal issues. Examples of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits in Texas involve:
- Motor vehicle accidents;
- Workplace accidents;
- Slip and fall claims;
- Premises liability accidents;
- Intentional injuries, such as battery or assault;
- Injuries related to animals and pets;
- Injuries related to property damages; and
- Any other case based on an individual’s negligence that results in an injury.
Once again, most of the personal injury cases listed above result in a damages award being issued to the victim that suffered the injury to assist them in their recovery. It is important to note that many personal injury cases also involve an insurance company. For example, in an auto accident case, the defendant’s insurance will likely be brought into the case to cover the damages to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s vehicle. Most personal injury cases in Texas are also resolved prior to trial, through a private settlement between the parties.
What Is Negligence In Personal Injury?
As noted above, one of the most common personal injury theories in Texas is negligence. A personal injury case based in negligence generally occurs as the result of the defendant’s negligent behavior. In order for a plaintiff to be successful in their negligence claim, the following legal elements must be proven:
- Duty: Duty refers to the level of care that a reasonable person would apply under similar circumstances. This means that the defendant should have acted, or not acted, in a certain way.
- For example, a motorist on Texas roads has a duty to pay attention to the road and follow the laws of the road;
- Breach of Duty: Once duty has been established and proven by the plaintiff, the plaintiff must then show that the duty was breached.
- To expand upon the previous example, if a motorist fails to keep proper lookout and fails to drive at a safe speed, then that will likely constitute a breach of duty;
- Causation: The plaintiff must next specifically show that the defendant’s actions or inaction was what actually caused their injuries.This means that no other intervening actions must have caused the injuries
- For example, if the motorist had been keeping a proper lookout and following the posted speed limit, they would not have hit the pedestrian utilizing the crosswalk;
- Proximate Cause: The injuries that resulted must have also been foreseeable.
- For example, the distracted driver that was speeding should have known that engaging in such negligent behaviors could result in an injury to another person;
- Damages: Finally, a plaintiff will have to prove that they suffered an actual injury or quantifiable damages.
- For example, a plaintiff cannot collect damages if they suffered no quantifiable injuries. This means a plaintiff will have to submit evidence of damages such as medical bills, medical expenses, lost wages, etc.
What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Personal Injury Claims in Texas?
In Texas, the general statute of limitations for almost all personal injury claims is two years from the date of the accident. Statute of limitations are laws which require injured parties to file their personal injury claims within a certain timeframe. As such, if the statute of limitations expires, the injured party may no longer be able to bring their personal injury lawsuit regarding their injury.
Statutes of limitation are intended to preserve evidence, as well as reduce the likelihood of false claims being made against defendants. It is important to be aware of the statute of limitations that apply to your specific case, in order to prevent yourself from losing any potential compensation for your injuries. There are some cases in which the statute of limitations is more than two years, such as cases involving a minor.
Are There Limits on Damages in Texas Personal Injury Cases?
In short, yes. Texas does have a limit (cap) on damages in certain personal injury cases. The most significant cap on damages in Texas is the medical malpractice damages cap. In a medical malpractice case, plaintiffs are limited in terms of the amount of non-economic damages they may recover. Specifically, plaintiffs are limited to $250,000 for each doctor, health care provider, or healthcare facility that caused damages.
Further, plaintiffs cannot recover more than $500,000 in non-economic damages from all medical facilities involved. This means that the maximum recoverable amount for non-economic damages in a medical malpractice suit is $750,000. There are various rules and provisions for this law.
How Are Punitive Damages Handled in Texas?
Texas does allow for courts to issue punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits. Typically punitive damages will require proof that the defendant acted with either fraud, malice, or gross negligence. Punitive damages in Texas are capped at the greater of $200,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages up to a maximum of $750,000.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Personal Injury Claim in Texas?
If you have been harmed due to the actions or inactions of another individual in Texas, it is important to immediately consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Texas. An experienced attorney will be able to assist you in negotiating with the party, and likely their insurance provider, to recover your losses. Additionally, an attorney will be able to assist you in gathering evidence and initiating a civil lawsuit against the defendant. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.