In civil lawsuits, there is typically a limitations period after which a plaintiff’s case will be dismissed regardless of its merits. For car accident cases in which the plaintiff seeks to recover monetary compensation for injuries or property damage suffered due to another party’s alleged negligence, the statute of limitations is generally two years in Texas.
There are a few, limited exceptions to this general rule, but such cases are few and far between. (This is one of the many reasons that it is so important to contact a knowledgeable accident attorney as soon as possible after a crash.)
In order for the plaintiff to qualify under an exception or to have his or her filing deadline effectually tolled on a certain ground, he or she has the burden of proving the grounds for the exception. Unfortunately, this can be extremely difficult.
Facts of the Case
In a recent Texas appellate court decision, the plaintiff was a woman whose automobile was damaged in a multiple-vehicle accident. At the time of the four-car pile-up, the plaintiff’s son (who was then a minor) was driving her vehicle. The plaintiff’s son was injured in the accident and filed a separate lawsuit, seeking compensation for his injuries. In the case discussed herein, the plaintiff sought to recover compensation for the property damage to her car.
The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, who were the second, third, and fourth drivers in the collision. The plaintiff appealed from a take-nothing judgment entered against her.
The Decision on Appeal
The Texas Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the plaintiff maintained that the trial court should have entered a default judgment in her favor as to one of the defendants, the appeals court disagreed. According to the court, the record indicated that this defendant had filed an answer; even though his answer was late, the trial court had no authority to grant a no-answer default judgment once the defendant had filed his answer.
The court then noted that Texas law requires that a plaintiff file a negligence or property damage claim within two years of an automobile accident. Not only was the plaintiff’s case untimely filed, but also the court found that she had failed to raise a question of material fact as to whether any tolling provisions might have applied. Notably, the plaintiff also failed to ensure that service of process was timely made on two of the defendants.
Since the plaintiff both missed the statute of limitations and failed to serve process in a diligent manner, the appellate court found that the trial court had acted appropriately when it entered summary judgment in the defendants’ favor.
Talk About Your Case with an East Texas Trial Attorney
At Earl Drott Law, we handle a variety of automobile accident and other personal injury cases in and around Tyler and Smith County, Texas. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 903-531-9300. There is no charge for the appointment, and, in most cases, no legal fees are owed unless your case is successfully completed via a settlement or judgment in your favor.
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