You're shopping at the 11th Street H-E-B when you slip on a puddle of something in the middle of the aisle. Your head hits the tile floor, hard. When you regain consciousness, you find yourself in the back of an ambulance on your way to Christus Hospital. These slip and fall cases are only one of many types of personal injury claims. If you've sustained an injury in Beaumont due to the careless, reckless, or wrongful act of another, there are laws in place to protect you. This article discusses some of the Texas laws and regulations applicable to your Beaumont personal injury case.
Statutes of Limitations: Two Years to File Your Claim
State laws called statutes of limitations limit the amount of time you have to file lawsuits. The Texas statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit to recover money for an injury to one's person or property is two years. In other words, you have two years from the time your injury occurred to file your lawsuit. For some injuries that aren't likely to be discovered until long after they occur, the statute of limitations begins to toll from the time of discovery rather than the time of the injury.
Damages and Damage Caps: Court Awarded Compensation
In Texas, a claimant sues a defendant for "damages," the legal term for the money awarded by the court to compensate the claimant after an accident or injury. In a Beaumont personal injury claim under Texas law, a claimant may claim any damages that resulted from an injury caused by the defendant. The Texas legislature has divided damages into three categories: economic, non-economic, and exemplary.
Under Texas damages law, economic damages are monetary losses resulting from an accident or injury. In other words, the court can put a dollar amount on these types of damages. Economic damages include medical expenses, past and future lost wages, expenses for childcare and domestic services, and more. There is no limit to the amount of economic damages a Texas court may award.
Non-economic damages are non-monetary losses resulting from an injury that are more difficult to quantify, such as pain and suffering, mental or emotional distress, disfigurement and more. In some circumstances, the Texas legislature has capped the amount of non-economic damages a court may award.
Exemplary damages, or punitive damages, are awarded to punish the defendant for wrongful conduct. A claimant in Texas court must show fraud, malice or gross negligence on the part of the defendant in order for a court to award exemplary damages, and there are caps on the amount of exemplary damages a court may award.
The 51% Rule in Texas
Regardless of the losses you've sustained as a result of your personal injury, there are legal limits to your recovery if you bear a portion of the fault for your injury. In Beaumont, under Texas' comparative negligence law, a claimant may not recover damages in personal injury lawsuit if he is found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident or injury in question. This is sometimes called the 51% rule because the claimant who is 51% or more at fault is barred from recovery.
In a personal injury case, the trier of fact (either a judge or jury) makes determinations of fault for all parties and persons involved in the events that resulted in the injury. The trier of fact will take all available evidence into consideration when making the determination.
Under Texas law, determinations of proportions of fault must be made for:
As long as a claimant is not barred from recovery based on the 51% rule, he can recover all of his damages from any one defendant found to bear more than 50% of the fault. However, the claimant's recovery will be reduced in proportion to his fault.
Take this example: Casey sustains an injury in an accident caused, in part, by the carelessness of Dan and Delia. Casey files a personal injury lawsuit against Dan and Delia claiming $100,000 in damages. The court finds that Casey, the claimant, is 10% at fault, Dan, a defendant, is 55% at fault and Delia, another defendant, is 35% at fault in the accident.
Casey's $100,000 recovery will be reduced by $10,000 in proportion to his 10% of the fault. Dan and Delia will each be responsible for their portions of the remaining $90,000 in damages. However, Casey may recover the entire $90,000 from Dan even though Dan's portion of the damages only totaled $55,000 because Dan was more than 50% at fault. Dan must pay Casey, and then he may sue Delia to recover her portion.
Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
A good first step in a personal injury may be to consult an attorney. Personal injury law is complex, and hiring an attorney to represent you may maximize your chances of recovery. However, you aren't required to hire an attorney to file a claim.
Regardless of whether you're represented or not, the official first step is to file a personal injury claim with the appropriate Beaumont civil court. If you're claiming less than $10,000 in damages, you'll file with small claims court. If you're claiming $10,000 or more in damages, you'll file your case with the Jefferson County District Clerk's Office. For more information about various courts in Beaumont, visit FindLaw's Beaumont Courthouses resource page.
Once you've filed your claim with the appropriate court, your personal injury case will follow steps similar to those discussed at length in FindLaw's Stages of a Personal Injury Case section. Now that you've learned a bit about the Texas personal injury law applicable to your Beaumont case, discover more general resources on FindLaw in the Accidents and Injuries section.
Contact a qualified attorney.