Your Fort Worth Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Danger lurks around every corner of Fort Worth. We see them on a daily basis, but for some reason you never think that you'll be the poor guy on the shoulder of I-30 frowning over his ruined car. That you'll never slip on a hidden puddle while strolling through the produce aisle at Central Market. But then life got in the way, you are stuck in bed unable to work with a mind swimming in painkillers with no clue how you'll pay these medical bills. Fortunately, the Texas court system offers reprieve to injury victims, and FindLaw has created this guide to your Fort Worth personal injury lawsuit.

Filing a Lawsuit

You can file a lawsuit at the Tarrant County Courthouse located at 100 W. Weatherford St. The District Court handles all cases worth over $200, but you may instead opt for the informal procedural and evidentiary rules of small claims court if your claim is worth less than $10,000. All you need to file a lawsuit is a civil case information sheet and a complaint, which is a brief document that explains the basis for your lawsuit, names the people you are suing, and requests monetary compensation.

Time Limit

If you've been injured, you have a limited window of opportunity to file your lawsuit. Under Texas law, the statute of limitations for filing most personal injury claims is two years. This means that you have up to two years from the date of the accident or injury occurred to file your lawsuit, or else your case will be dismissed regardless of its merit.

Find a Lawyer

Battling the slick corporate lawyer single-handedly is a decidedly uphill battle, so you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney. A lawyer can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf. Significantly, personal injury lawyers almost universally offer a free initial consultation and then work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your eventual recovery after you win. Yes, that means you pay them nothing up front, and they have every incentive to maximize your recovery.

Types of Lawsuits

The most common personal injury cause of action asserts the defendant acted negligently. To succeed in this type of lawsuit, you must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injury.

If a close family member was killed, the surviving family can recover damages by pursuing a wrongful death suit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.

A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment or unreasonably delay treatment.

Comparative Negligence

Traditionally if the jury found that the injury victim contributed even slightly to his or her injury, the victim couldn't recover any money under any circumstances. However, many states have softened this brutal doctrine so that an injured person can still recover a portion of their losses even if he or she was partly responsible for the injury. Texas uses a modified comparative negligence system, where an injured person who is found to be 50% or less at fault for his or her injuries can recover from other individuals or entities at fault, proportionate to their fault. Texas calls this law "proportionate responsibility."

For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. However, if you were found to be 51% (or more) responsible for the accident, you would be barred from any recovery.

Workers' Compensation

Many personal injury claims are based on incidents that occurred on the clock at you place of work. Fortunately, the Texas workers' compensation system requires most employers to carry insurance against workplace injuries that will pay for your medical bills and lost income. If you are an injured on the job, report the injury to your employer within 30 days or else you risk forfeiting all benefits. You also need to file a completed Employee's Claim for Compensation for a Work-Related Injury or Occupational Disease (DWC041) to the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation, within one year of the date of injury. Try contacting the Texas Department of Insurance helpline at (800) 252-7031 for more assistance, or browse through their online FAQ.

Damages

Damages refer to the monetary compensation you receive when your suit is eventually successful. Damages are traditionally divided into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are designed to compensate you for direct monetary burdens, including medical expenses, loss of income, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement and loss of employment opportunities. Try checking out our damages worksheet to make sure you don't forget anything important.

Non-economic damages are far more abstract. The goal of non-economic damages is to compensate the plaintiff for the pain and suffering they've endured due to their injury, but juries also consider scarring or disfigurement, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. Like most states Texas has an upper limit to the amount of non-economic damages you can recover in medical malpractice cases. There is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages against a single physician, health care provider or health care institution, and an overall $500,000 cap on non-economic damages from all defendants combined.

The law is mainly formalized common sense, so engage your brain by reading up on injury law basics or figure out how to get your life back on track after a devastating car accident.

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