Your Guide to Personal Injury Claims in Texas
Being injured by someone else’s negligence can flip the script on your life. Not only are you facing mounting medical expenses and lost earnings as a result of the other person’s negligence, but the attendant emotional upheaval can also make the entire experience that much more challenging. Because regaining your health and well-being is critical and because obtaining the compensation to which you are entitled will likely play a pivotal role in your recovery, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney from the outset.
Consulting with a Personal Injury Attorney
After seeking the medical attention you need, your very next step in the personal injury process should be consulting with a dedicated personal injury attorney who has considerable experience guiding claims like yours toward advantageous outcomes. Because personal injury claims tend to be quite complicated, it is important to work with someone who not only has the experience and resources you are looking for but with whom you are comfortable opening up and sharing the difficult details of the accident in question. When it comes to hiring a personal injury attorney, there are a variety of considerations to keep in mind.
Your Attorney’s Role
Your attorney will shoulder considerable responsibility in your case and will deftly tackle many important tasks, including:
Gathering all the relevant evidence in your case, including testimony from eyewitnesses and expert witnesses (as applicable)
Building your strongest claim by weaving the evidence into a credible narrative that helps establish your version of events
Negotiating with the involved insurance company for compensation that covers your full range of legal damages (or losses) in their entirety.
Preparing to go to trial in the event that the insurance company refuses to address your damages seriously and to negotiate accordingly
Your Attorney’s Pay
Many claimants worry about how they will afford legal counsel, and with the financial losses you are facing, it is no wonder that this is a concern. The fact is, however, that the vast majority of reputable personal injury attorneys work on what is known as a contingency basis, which means that their pay is contingent upon (or hinges upon) the outcome of their clients’ cases. If your case prevails and you receive either a settlement or court award, your personal injury attorney will receive a prearranged percentage of your compensation. If, on the other hand, your case does not win – and you do not receive a settlement or court award – you will not owe your attorney anything.
The Time Limit Involved
Every state attaches a statute of limitations to personal injury claims, and this refers to the amount of time that you have to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party who caused you to be injured. The upheaval that goes along with being injured by someone else’s negligence can eat up a considerable amount of time that can make these allotted two years seemingly fly by. In fact, many would-be claimants are thwarted by the statute of limitation, which is why reaching out to a skilled personal injury attorney sooner rather than later is always in your best interest.
Fault Percentage in Texas
Even if you fear that you may share fault in the accident that leaves you injured, you should not let this stop you from consulting with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The State of Texas employs what is known as proportionate responsibility or contributory negligence, and this means that, as long as you are not more than 50 percent responsible for the accident that leaves you injured, you can seek compensation for the percentage of fault the other party is responsible for. For example, if you are injured in an accident that you are determined to be 40 percent responsible for, your total compensation (that your case settles for or that you are awarded by the court) will be reduced by this 40 percent.
Establishing Negligence in Your Texas Personal Injury Case
In order to establish that the other party’s negligence is responsible for your injuries in your personal injury case, you’ll need to demonstrate that the following elements are all present:
The person whom you deem as being at fault for the accident in question owed you a duty of care. The simplest way to define this duty of care is by offering an example. When you get behind the wheel of your car, you recognize that you have a responsibility to everyone else on the road that includes driving safely and following the rules of the road. This is the duty of care that every driver owes. Another straightforward example is the duty of care that commercial property owners shoulder related to keeping their premises reasonably well maintained (in order to allow for the safe passage of their customers, clients, visitors, and other guests).
The person whom you deem as being at fault for the accident in question breached the duty of care owed to you, which means that he or she failed to live up to the responsibility owed. A prime example of a breached duty of care is when a motorist texts behind the wheel – instead of focusing solely on the task at hand (driving safely). Speeding excessively, driving while drowsy, being impaired behind the wheel, and aggressive driving are all common examples of a breached duty of care.
The negligence (or breached a duty of care) of the person whom you deem as being at fault for the accident in question must have directly caused the accident that left you injured. For example, if the driver was drunk behind the wheel when he blew through a red light and barreled into the side of your car, his or her impairment is the direct cause of the injury-inducing accident.
The person whom you deem as being at fault for the accident in question must have reasonably understood that his or her actions put others at risk in the first place, and the drunk driver example easily clears this bar. All reasonable drivers recognize that driving drunk is an exceptionally dangerous practice.
Finally, you must have suffered actual legal damages that you can be compensated for.
The kinds of damages (or losses) that you can be compensated for include both economic damages (those that come with a clear price tag) and non-economic damages (that are more difficult to attach a value to but that are, nonetheless, an important component of your overall losses). Far less frequently, punitive damages – that are intended to punish the at-fault party and to dissuade others from engaging in similarly egregious practices – are employed.
Your Medical Bills
One economic damage that typically applies to personal injury claims is resulting medical expenses. Serious injuries tend to generate very costly medical bills that are often ongoing (in response to secondary health concerns). These costs can include all the following:
Emergency care and transportation
Treatment and care from doctors, specialists, and other medical professionals
Medical tests and procedures
Physical and occupational therapy
Adaptive physical devices
Your Lost Earnings
Another loss that you can easily put a price on is your lost earnings (which accumulate while you tend to the important task of regaining your health and well-being). If your ability to perform your job is affected, the associated financial losses will be that much more serious. It’s important to note that there can also be an emotional element to this form of loss – due to the significance our careers hold for many of us.
Your Physical and Emotional Pain and Suffering
Your pain and suffering, which can be considerable, is the primary form of non-economic damages. While it is more difficult to attach value to your pain and suffering, it is not difficult to recognize how damaging this kind of loss can be. Consider the following common forms of pain and suffering that accident victims often experience:
Severe mood swings
Increased anxiety, including anxiety attacks
Shifts in personality
Bouts of depression
Sleep disturbances that can include insomnia
A tendency to self-isolate and push others away
Unfortunately, these emotional side effects can leave accident victims more socially isolated – just when they can most use the support of their friends, loved ones, and family.
Calculating the Value of your Pain and Suffering
While adding up your medical bills and looking to the future regarding likely medical costs is a relatively straightforward practice, putting an overall price on your pain and suffering is far more nebulous. Your pain and suffering directly relates to the more quantifiable damages you’ve sustained, which is why a multiplier method is generally employed to calculate the value of pain and suffering in personal injury claims. This works by assigning a multiplier number that is based on the severity of the injuries sustained and that generally ranges from 1.5 to 5. The number is then multiplied by the amount of your overall economic damages – resulting in the value of your associated pain and suffering. It’s important to point out that this practice is inefficient in situations such as disfigurement, which can be relatively inexpensive to treat but is, nonetheless, life-altering. In other words, this multiplier method is a basic framework for assigning value and does not impose any limits on the amount you can pursue.
The answers to some of the most frequently asked questions as they relate to personal injury law can help you protect your own claim.
Do I need an attorney?
The fact is that personal injury claims are legally challenging, and in the vulnerable state you find yourself, proceeding on your own is not advised. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney early in the process is the surest way to help protect your claim – in pursuit of the compensation to which you are entitled.
What steps should I take after an accident?
After you have addressed the matter of obtaining the medical attention you need, the next order of business is reaching out to a dedicated personal injury attorney. From here, you should focus on regaining your health and well-being while your personal injury attorney builds your strongest claim and skillfully negotiates with the involved insurance company for just compensation. It is also an excellent idea not to discuss or post about the accident in question – the insurance company is waiting for you to say something that it can use to diminish the strength of your claim (even if it has to twist your words to accomplish this goal).
What should I say to the insurance rep?
This is another occasion when it is a good idea to remain silent on the matter of the injury-causing accident. The insurance representative who calls you about your accident is adept at coaxing statements out of accident victims that ultimately damage their claims. You are not required to provide the insurance company with a statement, and it is in the best interest of your claim not to do so.
Why do I need an attorney if I have already been offered a settlement?
The fact is that if the insurance company gets back to you with a speedy settlement offer, it is likely a sign that it is attempting to resolve the matter before you recognize the full extent of your damages. Settling for inadequate compensation can leave you facing considerable financial losses into the future. Do yourself a favor by making it your policy not to accept a settlement offer until after an experienced personal injury attorney is up to speed on the matter and has advised you to do so.