You were on a field trip with the thirty four students in your son's fifth grade class at the Texas State Aquarium. You were only responsible for your mini-group of five kids, but they alone were a handful. Michael kept running ahead, Grace kept staying behind, Zach and Liam kept playing tag, and only Sophie was ever really listening to you. You finally got them all over to the Living Shores exhibit when you slipped in a big puddle of water and fell flat on your back. It looked like a cartoon pratfall and the kids were giggling.
But when you went to get up, you couldn't move at all.
Your mind started racing: You needed to get to a doctor and you were going to miss work. Who was going to pay for all that? Whose fault was this anyway? Should you file a personal injury lawsuit? Here we've compiled some basic information to help you navigate through a personal injury case in the Sparkling City by the Sea.
First Things First
The very first thing to do after any personal injury is to attend to any immediate medical needs. Once you have done that, however, you may wish to start collecting information about the accident so that you can protect your legal rights down the road. Some of the things you might consider include: jotting down notes about what happened, taking photographs of the accident site and your injuries if visible, and collecting the contact information of any witnesses. This FindLaw section on First Steps After An Injury has additional tips you may find useful.
In some cases, the parties involved in an accident are able to resolve the entire matter through insurance to everyone's satisfaction. However, sometimes your claim is denied or the settlement offered by the insurer is not acceptable to you. If you wish to file a complaint against an insurer, you may do so through the Texas Department of Insurance. Here is some information from them about helping you with your insurance complaint.
Filing A Lawsuit
If you decide to pursue legal action after your injury, you will be filing a civil (as opposed to a criminal) lawsuit. Keep in mind that you only have a certain amount of time within which you must either file your lawsuit or abandon it forever. These time limits are called statutes of limitations and they vary by state and by cause of action. In Corpus Christi and the rest of Texas you generally have 2 years (PDF) to bring a personal injury action.
Usually in a personal injury case you (the "plaintiff") allege that the other party (the "defendant(s)") acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident. In many cases, however, both parties act negligently -- what happens then? In a few states, if you are even 1% at fault you are prohibited from bringing an action against the other party. In Corpus Christi and the rest of the state, however, so long as you are not more than 50% responsible, this won't happen to you.
Typically, the opening legal paper you will file will be a "complaint." This document identifies the parties, briefly describes the facts surrounding the accident, sets forth your legal claims, and asks the court to award "damages" (monetary compensation). The defendant then has the opportunity to file an "answer" in which he addresses the allegations made in the complaint and can even bring his own claims against you. You will likely be filing your case at the Nueces County District Court as the district courts have jurisdiction in cases where $200 or more is at issue.
What Damages Are Available?
Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may be entitled to a variety of damages. Damages can be divided into different categories and you may be able to claim all types, depending on the circumstances of your case.
First are "economic damages," which are meant to compensate for tangible economic loss, and include things like medical expenses, lost wages, property loss, and more.
Next are "non-economic damages," which are meant to compensate for the intangible losses like pain and suffering.
Finally, there are also "punitive" or "exemplary" damages which are meant to punish or make an example of the defendant for his behavior. In Texas, exemplary damages are limited in amount and are only available in cases in which the claimant establishes by clear and convincing evidence that there was fraud, malice or gross negligence.
Depending on the extent of your injuries, it is recommended that you at least consult with an injury attorney to assess your case. In many cases, your first meeting is free of charge and if you decide to retain the lawyer, you can often do so on a contingency basis where his fees are paid out of your recovery. Check out the FindLaw section on Using A Personal Injury Lawyer for information on how an attorney can help, forms to help you prepare your case, and more.
Contact a qualified attorney.