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Personal Injury FAQ

We all have a responsibility to exercise caution around one another, a rule the law refers to as “reasonable care.” It’s the reason we look both ways before we cross the street, or check for traffic before making a turn. When people fail to exercise reasonable care, they are guilty of negligence, which forms the basis of virtually every Houston personal injury claim.

What is Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury is a broad area of the law that seeks to provide victims of injuries with compensation. Also known as tort claims, these lawsuits are one of the most important aspects of our civil court system. Personal injury lawsuits are vital to the health of our nation for several reasons:

  • They provide funds to accident victims, when they wouldn’t be otherwise available. Everyone knows how expensive medical bills can be. Add lost wages to the mix, and it can be extremely difficult for an accident victim to stay afloat, let alone provide for their families. That’s where tort claims come in – they provide compensation for medical bills and rehabilitation expenses, as well as intangible losses such as pain and suffering.
  • They provide accountability. Today’s companies are larger and more powerful than ever. Corporate greed allows companies to think they can get away with shoddy business practices and larger profits. Tort claims are meant to send a message: no one can get away with negligence. Some personal injury claims include punitive damages, which are specifically intended to punish the defendant for wrongdoing.

Personal injury attorneys in Houston are becoming the last line of defense for accident victims who feel they’re running out of options. Whether we’re taking on a trucking company, large corporation, or your employer, we only have one goal: to help you get back to the life you deserve.

Elements of a Personal Injury Case in Houston

All Houston personal injury cases rely on the idea of negligence. To successfully pursue a personal injury case, we must prove three things:

  • That you were injured.
  • That the injury was the direct result of someone’s negligence, and
  • Your injuries incurred specific damages.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Proving you were injured is perhaps the easiest of the three. Generally, your medical records will speak for themselves.

Next, you must prove your injuries were the direct result of negligence, which will form the basis of your personal injury claim. Negligence is defined as the failure to use “reasonable care.” In other words, someone “knew or should have known” that their actions were wrong.

We can define this more clearly with an example. Suppose you were in a car crash, and suffered a broken collarbone. The other driver involved was speeding and texting while driving. Since the laws prohibit both, they knew or should have known their actions were wrong. In this scenario, the other driver was negligent – and responsible for your injuries.

Finally, you must prove that your injuries incurred specific damages. Since Houston personal injury cases can be so expensive to litigate, the courts want to know that there are significant costs involved. These costs can be put into two types:

  • Specific damages include things like medical bills, lost wages, loss in earning capacity, and costs associated with your continued rehabilitation.
  • General damages cover intangible losses such as pain, suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium.

Limitations for Personal Injury Cases

Each state has its own set of rules that limit when a person can sue for damages, and for how much. The first of these rules is referred to as a statute of limitations. In Texas, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit with the state’s civil courts. There are notable exceptions to this rule – for example, in cases involving minors, the statute of limitations doesn’t begin until their 18th birthday.

Since symptoms of an illness or injury might not fully manifest until weeks or months after an accident, consult with a Houston personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

The second limitation in personal injury cases is called a damage cap. These caps limit the amount of money you can collect from a defendant, and applies in a few situations:

  • Awarding of punitive damages. An attorney may pursue punitive damages to punish a defendant for grossly negligent behavior. A common example is when a pharmaceutical company knowingly breaks the law by offering physicians kickbacks for prescribing their drugs off-label.
    In the state of Texas, punitive damages cannot exceed two times the amount of economic damages, plus the amount of non-economic damages, not to exceed $750,000. For example, if a person wins a lawsuit and is awarded 1 million in economic damages, and $750,000 in non-economic damages, the cap for punitive damages would be $2.75 million.
  • Medical malpractice Cases. The Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003 limits the amount of money a person can receive in Texas for non-economic damages. According to the current law, a person can sue for the total amount of specific damages, but they must adhere to caps for general damages. These caps can be confusing, but are as follows: you may pursue non-economic damages totaling 250,000 for each health care practitioner involved, and $250,000 to $500,000 for each health care facility involved, not to exceed a total of $750,000, adjusted for inflation.
    In wrongful death cases involving medical malpractice, the caps for total recovery –economic and non-economic damages – is $500,000, but this is adjusted for inflation from the year 1977. In other words, the caps are approximately $1.65 million in today’s dollars.
  • Caps against the government. Filing a personal injury claim against a government entity is an entirely different process. These cases involve stricter filing deadlines, and the government has more immunity in personal injury cases that private parties. When they are liable, there are still caps on how much you can sue them for. When someone is injured because of a government entity (for example, while riding public transportation), the cap for each person involved is $250,000, not to exceed $500,000 for a single occurrence. For example, if a bus driver is drunk and crashes, injuring all 10 people on board, the total amount awarded would be $500,000, or $50,000 per person.
    For government agencies not involving a state, municipality, or emergency services organization, the caps are even smaller – $100,000 per person, up to a total of $300,000 per occurrence.

How Fault Might Affect Your Case

Sometimes the party you are filing a personal injury claim against will argue that you are partially to blame for the incident that led to your injury. If a jury agrees that you share some of the liability for your accident, it will affect the amount of money you receive from the party at fault.

In the state of Texas, this is a legal notion referred to as shared fault. Each state has its own rules for shared fault, and Texas follows the “modified comparative negligence rule.” This simply means your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault. On the other hand, if a jury finds you more than 50% at fault, you won’t be eligible to collect anything.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Say you were rear-ended in a car accident, which usually means the other driver was at fault; unfortunately, in this scenario, your brake lights weren’t working at the time, which leads a jury to believe you were 10% at fault for the accident. Let’s also say that your total damages were $25,000. This would affect your settlement amount by $2,500. Under the Texas modified comparative negligence rule, your settlement would be reduced to $22,500.

The civil court system is obligated to follow this rule only if an injury lawsuit makes it to trial. Don’t be surprised if a defendant’s attorney brings this up during settlement talks. The comparative negligence rule is one reason why it’s important to have an experienced attorney by your side.

How Will I Know If I Have a Case?

If you’ve been involved in an accident, your mind is likely full of questions. How will you pay for your medical bills? How much work will you have to miss? Will disability benefits be enough to live on? How will you provide for your family, and the other costs associated with your recovery?

Though the aftermath of an accident is fraught with uncertainty and difficulty, here’s the good news: a personal injury settlement is intended to provide the answers to these questions, and more. But how do you know if you have a case?

If you want to know if a Houston personal injury settlement is right for you, simply ask yourself three questions:

  • Am I injured?
  • Could my accident have been avoided or prevented?
  • Were my injuries the result of someone else’s carelessness?

If you can answer yes to each of these, you may have a case. Your first step is consulting with a personal injury attorney.

Our legal team deals specifically with personal injury law. We see negligence on a regular basis, so we know what to look for, and how to determine if you have legal grounds for a claim.

Here’s a tip: if an insurance company or attorney approaches you with a settlement offer, you probably have a legal right to collect damages. Be wary of these offers, as you could be entitled to more for your lost wages, medical bills, and suffering.

With a legal advocate by your side, you’ll be better equipped to pursue a personal injury claim. We’ll talk to witnesses, gather testimony, and review your medical records to determine your best course of action.

When it comes to having grounds for a personal injury claim, there’s only one rule: you won’t know unless you ask.

How Will You Determine If Negligence Occurred?

Most accidents aren’t accidents at all – they happen because someone was careless or reckless. When looking at legal liability, we follow this basic rule: if one person involved was more careless than another, they will owe the other party damages. We may also determine the liable parties using the following considerations:

  • If you were in an area where you had a right to be, and you were reasonably careful, the person who injured you had a duty to exercise reasonable care. On the other hand, if you were injured while trespassing on someone’s property, they aren’t liable for your injuries.
  • If a person acting negligently causes an accident while employed by someone else, the employer may be liable for the accident. For example, if you were in an accident with a semi-truck driver, their employer may be responsible for hiring them negligently.
  • If the accident occurred on a property that’s dangerous because it was poorly maintained, the property’s owner is liable, regardless of whether they created the condition. A common example is slipping and falling on ice on someone’s property.
  • If an accident is the result of a defective product, the manufacturer or seller may both be liable, even if you don’t know which one was careless in creating or knowingly selling a product with a defect. A recent example would be selling or manufacturing a cell phone with a defective lithium battery – in this case, both the retailer and the manufacturer should have known it was dangerous.

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