Picture of the author

What is Personal Injury in Austin, Texas?

Personal Injury

Personal injury encompasses a wide range of injuries that can happen to a person. Unlike bodily injury, which is only associated with physical harm to the body, personal injury could include emotional, physical, or mental harm. In Austin, Texas, personal injury law deals with legal disputes that arise when one person suffers an injury due to another person's negligence or wrongful conduct.

In contrast to criminal cases, personal injury cases do not involve a wrongdoer's prosecution. Instead, a claimant or injured party seeks compensation from the other entity (person, business, organization, or government) accused of causing the injury. The Civil Practice and Remedies Code governs personal injury cases in the city of Austin and throughout Texas. This section of the law defines negligence, duties of reasonable care, statutes of limitations, legal responsibility and liabilities, damages, and recovery in personal injury claims.

What is a Personal Injury Claim in Austin, Texas?

A personal injury claim is a legal dispute in which one party holds another party responsible for the injury they have suffered. It allows injured parties to formally seek restitution for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses or consequences of the injury. The injured entity that files the lawsuit is the plaintiff, while the defendant is the entity against whom the legal action is taken. Auto accidents, workplace accidents, slip and fall accidents, product liability, medical malpractice, and wrongful death are examples of personal injury claims.

Personal injury lawsuits are based on accidents caused by negligence. Every member of society has a general legal duty of care, which requires them to act responsibly and avoid endangering others. Hence, negligence is a failure to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the same situation.

Anyone who has been injured in an accident and wishes to seek financial compensation must demonstrate that a reasonable person in the same position as the defendant would have acted differently under the circumstances that led to the injury. Thus, a valid personal injury claim must demonstrate the following:

  • There was a negligent party: The plaintiff must establish that the defendant was negligent, reckless, or acted with a disregard for public safety.
  • The negligent act resulted in an injury: After negligence is established, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the negligent act caused a specific, identifiable injury. 
  • The injury caused compensable damage: Damages refer to the amount of money an injured victim may recover from a negligent defendant. The plaintiff must establish the existence and amount of damages suffered.

For instance, suppose a driver ran a red light and hit a woman. In that case, the negligent act is the driver’s disregard of the traffic signal’s command. The injury caused by the negligent act may include physical injuries or psychological trauma linked to the accident. Finally, the medical expenses incurred during treatment may be considered compensable damages.

Different types of damages are available to compensate injured victims depending on the specific nature of their sustained injury:

  • Economic damages that have a monetary value. Examples are medical expenses and lost wages.
  • Non-economic damages that cannot be quantified in monetary terms. Examples are physical discomfort and suffering.
  • Punitive damages may be awarded when an injury results from a particularly reckless or malicious behavior on the defendant's part. It is intended to punish the negligent party and exemplify them for their gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Most personal injury claims in Austin are handled in the civil court system. Therefore, instead of a criminal court, claimants file their lawsuit in a civil court. Depending on the value of their claim, plaintiffs can either file the lawsuit in a state trial court(District Court) or a County Court if the value of their civil claim is between $200 and $10,000. 

According to the court activity database maintained by the Texas Judicial Branch, the district and statutory county courts in Travis County (which includes Austin city) had a total of 81,460 personal injury cases on the docket from January 2019 to January 2020. Personal injury claims resulting from automobile accidents accounted for 55,960 of these cases, making them the most common type of personal injury claim filed in the county. Only 2,510 of these cases were successfully resolved.

How to Find a Personal Injury Lawyer in Austin, Texas?

Parties seeking personal injury attorneys in Austin may find them by: 

  • Searching online databases:

State and local bar associations maintain databases of all licensed attorneys in the state. The state bar association website has a search function that allows users to find lawyers based on various criteria, including location, area of expertise, name, and other characteristics. The database provides users with pertinent information about lawyers, such as their contact information, bar status, and whether they have been sanctioned or subject to disciplinary action.

The Austin State Bar Association also maintains a local online directory that contains information about all of the lawyers who are members of the association. Inquirers can find members by viewing names in an alphabetical listing, or by searching the databases based on case type, zip code, name, and so on.

It should be noted that these databases are not intended for legal aid or free legal services. In such cases, the State Bar of Texas can only refer people to low-cost civil legal aid organizations.

  • Inquire with friends and acquaintances:

Friends and colleagues who have been represented by an attorney in their personal injury claims can refer skilled personal injury lawyers. However, it is not advisable to choose a lawyer solely based on someone else's recommendation.

A personal injury lawyer is a litigator who provides legal services to parties involved in personal injury lawsuits. This includes the plaintiff alleging psychological or physical hurt, as well as the allegedly negligent defendant who caused the injury. Thus, depending on the case, a personal injury attorney may fulfill legal obligations to protect a defendant or assert a plaintiff’s claim.

After compiling a list of preferred attorneys, it is advisable to conduct further personal research on the attorneys' practice areas, experience, organizational affiliations, awards, and other relevant information. Then, it is critical to convene to discuss the claim and potential resolutions. This allows the party involved in the lawsuit to determine whether or not they are comfortable with the attorney handling their case.

What does a Personal Injury Lawyer do in Austin, Texas?

A personal injury lawyer performs a wide range of legal services to help their clients. Their critical duties primarily span tasks like filing complaints or motions, arguing cases, preparing legal documents, and providing professional legal advice. Aside from that, they increase the likelihood of receiving a favorable verdict in a personal injury lawsuit. They accomplish this by:

  • Identifying the liable parties: Determining who should be held accountable for an accident is not always a straightforward task. A personal injury attorney will carefully evaluate the incident to determine who is responsible and avoid suing the wrong entity.
  • Obtaining evidence to support the plaintiff's claim: To win a personal injury case, it is critical to demonstrate the defendant's wrongdoing and the injuries that occurred as a result. The attorney will collect evidence such as photographic evidence, surveillance footage or witness statements, to verify the plaintiff's claim and establish that the defendant was at fault. They may also preserve evidence that is at risk of being damaged, destroyed, or tampered with by filing a motion to prevent the destruction of evidence.
  • Obtaining a favorable settlement for the aggrieved party: A personal injury attorney will make sure that the plaintiff receives a settlement that will allow them to recover the total amount lost due to the accident.
  • Trial advocacy: If both parties cannot reach an agreement, the case will be tried in a court of law. The attorney will represent their client throughout the trial proceedings.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Hiring a personal injury lawyer in a civil lawsuit is not required, but it is highly recommended. To successfully fight and win most personal injury cases, it is necessary to understand the applicable state personal injury laws. Additionally, practical knowledge of how the court system operates contributes to the success of a personal injury claim. As such, without sufficient knowledge of either, plaintiffs risk making costly errors that jeopardize the case and give the defense an advantage.

The likelihood of success in a personal injury claim increases significantly with the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney who has trial experience, in-depth knowledge of relevant laws, and familiarity with the court system. Even if a claim proceeds to trial, a personal injury attorney is most qualified to present a case and advocate for the injured party. 

Regardless, a party in a personal injury lawsuit may proceed without legal representation under certain circumstances. For instance, some personal injury claims may not be worth the expense of hiring an attorney because the anticipated recovery is small. Also, if a claim is uncontested and both parties agree on fair compensation that allows the plaintiff to fully recover their losses, hiring a personal injury lawyer may be unnecessary. 

Additionally, if an accident resulted in only minor injuries or none at all, there is probably no need to hire an attorney. However, people in this situation must make sure that they are truly are not hurt. They are advised to consult with a doctor to rule out any potential complications before deciding not to hire an attorney. 

How Much to Ask for in a Personal Injury Settlement in Austin, Texas?

An injury settlement in Austin, Texas, is valued based on the circumstances surrounding the injury. Hence, the following factors may influence the value of a personal injury settlement:

  • The severity of the accident or injury
  • Loss of property
  • Medical special damages (medical expenses)
  • Lost earnings as a result of the injury
  • Pain and physical suffering 
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • A decline in the overall quality of life
  • Emotional suffering, etc.

While the value of medical expenses and lost income are generally fixed amounts, the value of other costs can be more subjective. Consequently, it can be challenging to put a monetary value on sustained physical and emotional harm. Nonetheless, in such cases, the damage and compensation formula (also known as the multiplier method) can be used to determine the value of a personal injury claim and to negotiate the settlement amount.

The Damage and Compensation Formula:

  • Add up all quantifiable losses. These may include lost earnings, property damages, and medical expenses related to the incident.
  • After, multiply the total by a figure ranging between 1.5 and 5. Minor injuries that do not necessitate extensive medical attention are rated one on the scale. In contrast, life-threatening injuries that can severely impact the quality of life are rated 5. 

For example, breaking both legs and requiring months of physical therapy to recover is an example of an injury that could be rated 5.

Because determining the value of a personal injury claim can be a complex task, claimants are advised to seek legal assistance to avoid errors that could jeopardize their case.

There is theoretically no limit to the potential value of non-economic damages that can be awarded in a personal injury litigation. Still, a court will only award damages if they are proven, clear, and convincing. But if the plaintiff files a medical malpractice claim, state law caps individual claims against a single defendant at $250,000 and combined claims against multiple defendants at $500,000.

How Long does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?

The resolution of personal injury cases can take weeks, months, or even years depending on certain circumstances. Factors that may affect the timeline for resolving a personal injury lawsuit include:

  • The complexity of the case: Some cases are easier to resolve than others. For example, car accident personal injury cases may be easier to resolve than medical malpractice cases because it is easier to determine liability in one case than the other.
  • The amount of the claim: The more valuable a case, the longer it usually takes to settle, especially if the defendant fights back to avoid paying a large settlement.
  • Whether the case is settled or goes to trial: Cases that go to trial typically take longer to resolve than cases that are settled out of court. Settlements effectively put an end to a dispute resolution process. However, suppose there is any disagreement about who is at fault or the amount of compensation that should be paid. The case will then proceed to trial, prolonging the resolution process by months or even years.
  • The number of parties involved: Personal injury lawsuits involving multiple parties and claims tend to take longer to resolve than other types of cases.

The time a claim is filed is also critical to the overall timeline of the proceeding. Plaintiffs in personal injury cases must file their claims within a specific time frame to be eligible for compensation. This time frame is known as the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations specifies the maximum amount of time that may pass following an accident before legal action can be initiated.

According to Texas law, personal injury claims have a two-year statute of limitations. This means that the plaintiff must file within two years of the date of the injury. If the injured party was not immediately aware of the injury, the clock will start ticking from the date of discovery.

If the statute of limitations passes before a plaintiff files a lawsuit, the defendant will file a motion to dismiss. When this occurs, the plaintiff forfeits their right to seek compensation from a court for their injuries, regardless of their severity or how obvious the defendant's responsibility is.

Yet, Texas law sometimes allows for the extension of an existing statute of limitations. If a child under the age of majority is injured, the deadline to file a claim for the injury is extended until the child reaches the age of majority or is otherwise legally deemed an adult. Then, the child would then have two years from the date they were legally recognized as an adult to seek compensation.  However, if a parent or guardian incurs medical expenses as a result of a minor's injury, the expenses are considered the adult's economic damages, not the minor's. In that case, the adult can file a personal injury claim within two years from the date of the injury, not two years after the minor reaches the age of majority.