When someone is injured, he or she may be able to recover medical expenses and other damages by filing a lawsuit. A statute of limitations is the length of time that the law allows individuals to initiate a lawsuit. Every situation is different, and a careful evaluation of the individual’s claim is necessary to determine which statute of limitations applies. However, Texas law groups personal injury claims in several categories and defines the conditions relating to civil suits.
For most personal injury claims, the statute of limitations in Texas is two years from the date of the injury. However, exceptions exist. For example, if the liable party is a Texas state employee or government agency, injured parties must first file a claim with the responsible agency no later than six months after the incident. A longer period may apply if the injury is caused by medical malpractice and the party is under the age of 12; in this instance, claims must be filed by the child’s 14th birthday. For other categories of injuries to a minor, however, limits on the time to file a claim may not start until he or she turns 18.
Due to the complexities of the statute of limitations laws in Texas, a professional consultation with a Houston attorney is often the first step in determining the rights of the injured party. A car accident lawyer, product liability attorney, medical malpractice lawyer or other personal injury attorney can help determine whether claimants have grounds for a lawsuit. Once engaged to represent a client, the attorney will make sure that all motions and petitions are filed within the required time frames, which may not be the same as the overall statute of limitations.
The laws can be even more confusing for those injured in a workplace accident. Under Texas law, the time limit to file a workers’ compensation claim is one year from the date of injury. If the injury is from a work-related disease, the time is one year from the date that the condition was recognized as, or should have been known to be, employment-related. Although workers’ compensation claims are an entirely different matter, failure to initiate such a claim can sometimes hinder a lawsuit for personal injuries suffered on the job. However, only a qualified work injury attorney can advise on the complexities related to lawsuits for workplace injuries.
In some cases, it is not reasonable to expect that the cause of the injury would have been discovered before the statute of limitations expired. For example, a work-related disease might take many years to develop. Under Texas law, certain personal injury suits can be filed even after the statute of limitations has ended. However, this “discovery rule” permits filing of claims for only a short period, and it does not apply to all injuries. A lawyer, such as a Houston personal injury attorney, can determine whether the discovery rule applies in a specific circumstance.
It is important for injured parties to understand the difference between a statute of limitations and a statute of repose. One definition of “repose” is the absence or cessation of activity. If a statute of repose applies to the defendant, the law protects the defendant from lawsuits filed after the statute of repose has run its course even if an injury occurs at a later date. To illustrate, suppose the manufacture of automobiles is subject to a 20-year statute of repose. An individual suffers an injury in a 25-year-old car with a design defect. The injured person cannot file a claim even if the defect caused or contributed to the accident.
In certain instances, the statute of limitations may be tolled, which means that it is suspended temporarily. For example, if the defendant enters bankruptcy while the statute of limitations is running, the clock typically stops on the statute of limitations until the defendant is out of bankruptcy.
Personal injury cases are complex matters requiring a qualified attorney. Failing to file a claim within the statute of limitations can result in the injured party permanently surrendering the right to file. However, because exceptions to the two-year rule exist, injured Texans should consult an attorney rather than assume that they cannot file a lawsuit because the injury occurred more than 24 months ago.