Galveston is quite peaceful but, every now and then, along comes an unexpected danger. Driving becomes tricky when there's a storm on the gulf, and accidents become more common. Even more so with visitors to the island who don't know what to expect. During the festivals at the Strand, people may slip and fall or simply bump into one another. Even in the Oleander City people get hurt. When this happens, you need to be familiar with Texas personal injury laws and how they might affect you.
There are several key terms in a personal injury case. In an ordinary case, the person who has been injured brings their case to court is a "plaintiff" or "claimant." The person who is accused of some kind of wrondoing is a "defendant." When a plaintiff goes to court, he/she files a "claim," also known as a "lawsuit." Over the course of a lawsuit, any party may assert claims against another, and so becomes a "claimant." You must file a lawsuit within the time limit for doing so, and that time limit is known as the "statute of limitations."
What's the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations is generally two years for personal injury cases. File on time or you could very well be out of luck. In most cases, the clock starts running from the time that you become injured. See a lawyer early on because special rules extending or shortening the time may apply. For example, if you are suing on a wrongful death theory, you have two years to file a claim, measured from the date of your loved one's death, as opposed to date of injury. Conversely, if your employer carries workers' compensation insurance, and you are injured at work, you have only 30 days to report it. There are other special rules for products liability cases, asbestos injuries, and sex crimes.
What Can a Claimant Recover?
Texas law allows plaintiffs to recover for: (1) economic compensatory damages; (2) non-economic compensatory damages; and sometimes (3) exemplary damages. Economic compensatory damages are meant to compensate you for your actual economic losses. They may include the cost of repairs, medical bills, lost wages, and similar items. Non-economic compensatory damages are meant to compensate you for your pain and suffering, emotional anguish and other harms not easily measured in dollars. It can be difficult to obtain exemplary damages because a plaintiff must show that the defendant's conduct was especially bad. See the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2, Subtitle C, Chapter 41 for more on damages. Please note that a claimant may not recover a separate amount in attorney's fees in a standard personal injury case.
From Whom May a Claimant Recover, and How Much?
In some cases, a claimant has many options for recovery. Generally, a claimant may recover from any person/entity that has intentionally harmed the claimant, or a person/entity that has been negligent. If you have been injured, you may have potential claims against additional parties inlcuding: the wrong-doer's employer, parents, and associates involved in the harmful activity.
If multiple parties possibly contributed to a claimant's harm, the case becomes more complicated. A judge or jury must assign blame based on a percentage to each defendant and the claimant. A claimant will not be able to recover anything if he/she is more than half at-fault, and his/her award will be reduced by his/her percentage of blameworthiness. Generally a party is only responsible for paying for his/her percentage of the blame, but there are exceptions. Texas law has very tricky rules on which parties will be financially responsible, and to what extent. In complex cases like these, it's usually best to have a lawyer.
Where do I file?
The laws of Texas give you several options for where to begin your case. Your decision should be based on the specifics of your case. In Galveston, you have the option of starting your case in either County Courts at Law, Judicial District Courts, or Justice Courts. County Courts and District Courts are located in the Galveston County Justice Center. Justice Court locations vary. See FindLaw's resource page for Galveston courthouses for more information.
For the most costly of personal injury cases, you should pursue your claim in the District Courts. There is no maximum recovery. If you are in County Courts at Law or Justice Courts, you may seek a maximum of $10,000. The courts will have other procedural advantages and disadvantages, so ask your attorney: "Which court is right for me?"
How Do I Pay for a Laywer?
Galveston has several lawyers that specialize in working for plaintiffs. They understand that you're injured, which may limit your ability to work and pay for your legal services immediately. These plaintiffs' attorneys will often work for a "contingent fee." This means that the attorney's pay depends on the result of the case. Contingent fee agreements must be in writing and describe the method of calculating the total. Read it carefully.
What If I'm Injured at Work?
Texas is unique for lots of reasons, but particularly when it comes to workers' compensation. For starters, private employers are not required to have workers' compensation insurance (WCI). This leaves employees with two possible ways of pursuing a personal injury case related to their jobs.
If an employer has WCI, notify the employer soon, and definitely within 30 days. Next, fill out a claim form and submit it to the Texas Department of Insurance (address provided on the form). You have one year. For answers to further questions, see the State's answers to Employee Frequently-Asked Questions. If your employer does not have WCI, you may proceed with a personal injury claim as you normally would outside of the context of work.
Contact a qualified attorney.