Personal Injury Laws Specific to the State of Texas
While many states share overlaps in laws regulating personal injury cases, many states differentiate from one another. Being in the state of Texas, it is important to break down notable laws that currently affect claimants in the lone star state, as it is important for individuals to understand the various laws and regulations affecting the claim they are attempting to pursue.
Statute of Limitations
All states have imposed their own statute of limitations. What this means is that there is a time limit put on one’s ability to file a suit and go to civil court after suffering injury or experiencing harm. It is important to note two considerations to the statute of limitations; that this time limitation varies depending on the type of claim, and under certain circumstances the deadline can be extended. In Texas, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives claimants two years from the date the injury occured to file a lawsuit. Any lawsuit that is attempted to be filed outside of this time frame will likely be refused, thus leaving the claimant with the inability to achieve compensation.
When talking about shared fault, it is interesting to look at the variations of this law, and to see where the state of Texas falls within it. There are four fault systems used by various states in the U.S. These include:
- Pure Contributory Negligence
- If you shared any fault, no damages can be recovered
- Pure Comparative Negligence
- Your percentage of fault reduces damages you can recover
- Modified Comparative Fault (50% Rule)
- Must be 50% or less at fault to recover damages
- Modified Comparative Fault (51% Rule)
- Must be less than 51% your fault to recover damages
Texas, along with 21 other states, uses the modified comparative fault 51% rule, specifically a modified comparative negligence rule. In Texas, the amount of compensation you will receive will be reduced by an amount equal to your percentage of fault. What this means, for example, is that if you are 25% percent to blame for the incident, and the other party is 75% to blame, the total damages you can recover will automatically be reduced by 25% (the amount that was your fault). So if your damages total at $20,000, your compensation will be reduced to $15,000, taking into account the $5,000 (25%) that you are at fault for. In addition, if you carry more than 50% of the blame, you can no longer collect any damages. Some states, Texas included, also put limits on the damages one can receive in these cases. It is important to note that Texas only puts limitations on damages in cases of medical malpractice. This statute of limitations is pretty specific, but in these cases, the max compensation for pain and suffering is set at $250,000 for the defendant, and $500,000 total. In cases of wrongful death due to medical malpractice, the cap takes inflation into account. The cap set in 1977 at $500,000 has since been adjusted to right around $2 million.
Motor Vehicle Laws
How Wearing a Seatbelt can Affect Personal Injury Cases
It seems pretty elementary to wear a seat belt in the car, whether you are driving the vehicle or you are a passenger. Roughly 38,000 people die in car accidents every year in the United States. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration found that in 2017, 47% of the 37,133 people who died in crashes that year were not wearing their seatbelt at the time of their fatal crash. The numbers speak for themselves – wear your seatbelt! Not only does it greatly increase your chances of survival if you are in a serious wreck, but it also can greatly increase the likelihood of receiving coverages for injuries and damages in a personal injury case. Every state in the United States, with the exception of only New Hampshire, has laws requiring drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts. Considering Texas’s comparative fault laws, not wearing a seatbelt might greatly affect your personal injury case and the compensation you may or may not receive. By simply not wearing a seatbelt, there is a possibility that the court would assign a percentage of the fault for injuries to the victim, even in cases where the victim did not cause the accident. Usually what happens in these cases is the defendant will use the failure to wear a seatbelt to prove comparative fault against the plaintiff. This can end up being impactful in cases where it is determined that the victim’s injuries likely would not have occurred or been as severe, had they been wearing a seatbelt. This determination can greatly diminish injury compensation and coverages. Wearing a seatbelt can better assure you receive fair compensation in a motor vehicle, but more importantly it can save your life.
How Pre-existing Health Conditions Affect Personal Injury Claims
Victims in personal injury claims are very rarely in perfect health prior to their accident. The fact of the matter is that most people in these situations have minor or major health issues that they have been living with prior to the accident. Considering that it is extremely common for victims to have pre-existing medical conditions, it is expected that they are only entitled to compensation for injuries and complications related to the accident at hand in personal injury cases. When victims’ pre-existing conditions become worsened due to the accident, however, they then become entitled to further coverage. If the pre-existing conditions become affected or aggravated by the incident, those prior issues then become a part of the injuries or complications that are proven to be as a result of the accident. The legal terminology for this is called exacerbation. Compensation is not limited to only physical injuries, but can also include mental health issues that become worsened by the accident. Keeping in mind that the insurance company of the opposing party is trying to pay you as little as possible, they will search extensively through medical information and history, looking for any evidence suggesting the accident has not affected your health or pre-existing conditions. This reinforces the importance of not only getting regular medical treatment following an injury, but also getting regular check-ups even if you are in good health. Doing so creates more of a concrete timeline and more secure evidence, thus it is extremely important to keep track of your health and medical records.
Can COVID-19 Affect Personal Injury Cases?
The global pandemic has proven to have an effect on almost everything involving social interaction worldwide. From closed down restaurants and stores, to hospitals crowded with patients and delays, and school shutdowns. The new normal is face masks and social distancing, and it seems as though the new way to work and go to school is becoming remote, for the most part. Is COVID-19 affecting personal injury cases? In short, yes. Really what hasn’t the pandemic affected at this point?
The whole premise of personal injury claims is for the injured to receive coverage for damages and injuries, and to receive the adequate medical treatment. In many cases we find that this treatment can be extremely extensive and timely. Even after countless surgeries and procedures, and after the wounds begin to heal, this is often not the end of the road for the injured. Physical therapy and/or additional medical care is often required, and again, elongates the timeline from the point of injury to full recovery. Then the pandemic comes into play, and further lengthens this process. There has been a growing worldwide fear of the virus, and this may keep patients from going to medical appointments and treatments. Hospitals that become overrun with COVID-19 patients may mandate that no non-COVID patients be allowed. This situation is unfortunate because of the fact that the option of receiving treatment and care is taken from the hands of the patient. At the end of the day, fear of the virus, delays in treatment, and medical care result in delays in resolving cases. These unique circumstances reinforce the importance of taking note of your personal injury recovery timeline, as it is important to note uncontrollable circumstances that prevent you from receiving treatment, including fear of the virus. The timeline is essential in proving the extent of injuries and treatments, and ultimately the amount of compensation.
In addition to the potential difficulty in getting health care in these times, courthouses around the country have also closed and/or modified their schedules and procedures to make the process safer and more remote to prevent further spread of the virus. As the physical courthouse is essential, when it shuts down or alters it’s scheduling and procedures, it further slows down the resolution of the case. While this is (hopefully) only temporary, it does not change the fact that times have changed, and personal injury practice has had some unforeseen hurdles. This should not shy people away from making personal injury claims, however it is important for claimants to be aware of the unique circumstances.
In many states around the country, there has been an extension of the statute of limitations in personal injury claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Texas is included in this list. Typically in Texas, the injured party has up to two years after the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. The recent extension on the statute of limitations extends a plaintiff’s time to 30 days from the time the governor’s state of disaster has expired.