You had a date night with your partner and you headed over to The City Theatre Company to see their production of The Odd Couple. You had been a big fan of the television show and loved the play just as much. You found your seats and as you were lowering yourself down into the chair it made a creaking sound and then broke, leaving you on the ground with shooting pain in your lower back. You felt humiliated as you lay there (you couldn't get up) and started wondering about doctor bills and whether you would be able to go to work on Monday. Was this a personal injury? Could you bring a lawsuit? A million thoughts are racing through your mind. Here to help you is some basic information about personal injury cases in Austin.
For a general overview, you may wish to start by checking out the FindLaw section on Accidents and Injuries. Then return here for information more specific to Texas and Travis County.
Of course you should focus first on any immediate medical needs you may have as a result of the injury. Assuming you have, however, you may wish to turn your focus toward collecting information and evidence regarding the accident itself. If there were any witnesses, be sure to get their names and contact information. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene and your injuries and jot down notes about what happened. This FindLaw section on First Steps After An Injury has some additional suggestions.
Taking Legal Action
Although you may resolve the matter directly through insurance, you might decide to take formal legal action. A personal injury case is considered a civil (as opposed to criminal) matter in which you are typically identified as the "plaintiff" and the party you claim is at fault is named as "defendant." For information on Austin Courthouses, check here.
Your initial court papers will typically include a "complaint" in which you set out the facts, identify the parties and state your legal claim. The defendant then has an opportunity to respond to your allegations by way of an "answer" and can even assert claims against you.
You will then generally proceed to the "discovery" phase of the case in which both sides exchange information with each other. The case could proceed to trial, but more often resolves by settlement prior to that time.
Don't Wait Forever
Filing a lawsuit is a big decision, one that shouldn't be rushed into it, but one shouldn't wait forever either. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Austin and the rest of the state is generally two years. If you try to file your lawsuit even one day after this deadline, you will likely be barred (prevented) from doing so.
Proving Your Case
Typically, in a personal injury case, you argue that the defendant acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident. To establish negligence you must prove 4 elements: 1) that the defendant owed you a duty of care, 2) that he failed to fulfill that duty, 3) that he caused an accident or injury to you, and 4) that you were harmed as a result.
The defendant will generally try to disprove one or all of these 4 elements or may argue that you were also negligent. In Austin and the rest of Texas, however, so long as your percentage of responsibility was not greater than 50% you can still pursue your claim, although your recovery will be reduced by your degree of fault.
If you are successful in proving your case, the defendant will typically be required to pay "damages" or monetary compensation for the losses you suffered. Depending on the facts of your case, these can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.
Getting Legal Help
Although you can represent yourself, you may find that it is easier to retain a legal professional to handle your case. Usually personal injury lawyers work on a "contingency fee" basis which means that their fees are paid out of any recovery you receive. In addition, they typically offer a free initial consultation. For more information, check out the FindLaw section on Using A Personal Injury Lawyer.
Contact a qualified attorney.