Texas Tort Law

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 What Do Tort Laws Cover?

Tort laws, including Texas tort laws, are laws which govern injuries that were caused by one individual and harmed another individual. They typically involve physical harm, although they may also involve other types of harm including emotional injury or economic loss.

Torts are civil wrongs, other than breaches of contract, which cause harm of loss. The individual or entity that commits these wrongs may be held liable for the losses or damages which they cause. The purpose of tort laws are to compensate victims as well as deter or discourage future similar behavior and wrongdoing. 

The typical remedy for a tort is the payment of monetary damages which are intended to cover the victim’s losses. There are several different types of common torts, including:

  • Products liability;
  • Slip and fall accidents; and
  • Simple assault cases.

It is important to note that there may be some overlaps between tort laws and criminal laws. Tort law is the area of law which permits an individual to sue another individual or company because they suffered injury or harm. This area of law is referred to as personal injury law. 

Tort law cases serve two basic purposes, including:

  • Permitting the victim, known as the plaintiff, to obtain compensation for losses which were caused by the defendant, who is the person being sued; and
  • Deterring the defendant from repeating the same behavior which caused the harm to the plaintiff.

Tort cases are different from criminal cases. This means that a defendant in a tort case will not face incarceration for their liability. 

Instead, a court will typically order the defendant to pay damages, or an amount of money, to the plaintiff. A tort case is also referred to as a civil lawsuit. Civil lawsuits are classified into three main, broad categories, including:

  • Intentional torts;
  • Negligence; and
  • Strict liability.

An intentional torts is a civil wrong which is committed with specific intent on the part of the defendant. Common intentional torts include:

  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land;
  • Trespass to chattel;
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress; and
  • Conversion.

While intentional torts are committed on purpose against a plaintiff, negligence is committed because of the defendant’s carelessness. In other words, a negligent tort is an unintentional tort. Typical negligence claims include accidents, such as slip and fall accidents and automobile accidents.

Negligence is an individual’s failure to act as an ordinary, reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances. A plaintiff in a negligence case is required to prove the following elements:

  • Duty;
  • Breach of duty;
  • Causation; and
  • Damages.

Strict liability is the legal doctrine which holds a party responsible for their actions or their products, without requiring a plaintiff to prove negligence or fault. When an individual participates in ultrahazardous activities they may be held liable if another individual is injured. These activities may include:

  • Keeping wild animals;
  • Using explosives; and
  • Making defective products.

What is Tort Reform?

Tort reform includes proposed changes to the legal system which will attempt to reduce the ability of plaintiffs to bring tort litigation or to reduce the amount of damages which a plaintiff is permitted to receive.

Tort reform in the United States, as well as in Texas is a contentious issue. Advocates of tort reform propose several changes, such as procedural limits on a plaintiff’s ability to file a claim and a cap on the award of damages.

House Bill 4, also called the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, went into effect on September 1, 2003 in Texas. This legislation capped the damages a plaintiff could receive and placed a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, such as those for pain and suffering. 

This legislation does not cap economic damages, which may include hospital bills and lost wages. However, because of this bill, attorneys may be less likely to accept certain cases.

Who Benefits from Tort Reform in Texas?

As previously noted, tort reform in Texas placed limitations on damages plaintiffs can receive. This provides a benefit to defendants, especially physicians, in the state.

The number of physicians has increased in the state since the passing of this bill. In addition, some physicians feel more comfortable practicing knowing that there are limitations on legal actions which can be taken against them.

The cap on damages in the state has also served to prevent physicians from frivolous claims in which a patient seeks to recover an excessively high amount of damages for their minor injuries.

Is Texas Tort Law Different From That of Other States?

The State of Texas is known as a tort reform state. This means that, in Texas, a considerable effort has been made to revise tort laws.

Primarily, Texas is known for placing a cap, or limit, on the monetary damages a plaintiff can be awarded in medical malpractice claims. Following the Texas cap on medical malpractice damages, thousands of physicians relocated to the state to set up their practices.

There are also other unique features of Texas tort law, which include:

  • No statutory damages;
  • Texas Tort Claims Act;
  • The Texas Advance Directives Act; and
  • Comparative negligence.

In Texas, tort law does not allow statutory damages, which are damages that may be awarded to a plaintiff who has not shown that they suffered any economic losses. Plaintiffs in Texas typically must prove a measurable economic loss before they can be awarded damages.

The Texas Tort Claims Act permits an individual to file a private tort lawsuit against a government entity. In most cases, a state entity is protected from these types of lawsuits under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This Claims Act, however, effectively waives that sovereign immunity.

The Texas Advance Directives Act, also known as the Texas Futile Care Law, permits a healthcare professional or facility to terminate a critically ill patient’s life-sustaining treatment. Termination of this type of treatment may occur within 10 days following a written notice that continuing the treatment will not likely have an effect on the patient. This Act may permit a physician to avoid tort liability for discontinuing treatment.

A plaintiff in a negligence claim in Texas may recover damages only in cases where their percentage of liability is equal to or less than 50%. It is important to note that not every state has a comparative negligence statute.

Because of these issues, Texas tort laws and policies have had far-reaching effects on the medical profession as well as on insurance claims for medical malpractice. It is important to be aware that these areas of tort reform in Texas are constantly undergoing changes and are a contentious subject in the state.

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Have Issues with Texas Tort Law?

It is essential to have the assistance of a Texas tort lawyer if you have any issues, questions, or concerns regarding a tort law issue in Texas, especially if your case involves medical malpractice in any form.

Your attorney can review your case and advise you regarding how these issues may apply. Your attorney can also assist you with filing a personal injury lawsuit as well as represent you during any negotiations or court proceedings.

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