Texas Appeals Court Holds that Statute of Limitations Was Tolled During Car Accident Defendant’s Out-of-State Vacation

Surely everyone knows by now that those who have been hurt in a Texas car accident or other vehicular wreck have only a limited time in which to file a lawsuit. Still, too many people put off talking to a lawyer about their case, making it more likely that their suit won’t get filed on time.

Granted, there are a few -a very few – situations in which the statute may be tolled, but a would-be plaintiff should never count on this. The best course of action is to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after an accident instead of putting off the important step of seeking legal advice about the case.

This not only allows for a timely filing of the necessary paperwork but also allows for a more thorough investigation of the accident itself, increasing the likelihood of a finding of liability against the negligent party when the case eventually goes to trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who alleged that he was injured in an automobile accident that occurred due to the defendant motorist’s negligence. Although the accident happened on August 30, 2015, the plaintiff’s suit was not filed until September 5, 2017. The defendant filed an answer asserting various affirmative defenses, including the two-year-statute of limitations. She then moved for summary judgment, arguing that she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the plaintiff’s negligence claim was time-barred under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Ann. § 16.003(a).

The County Court of Law for Brazoria County, Texas, granted summary judgment to the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed and remanded the case to the lower tribunal for further proceedings. The court of appeals began by acknowledging that the plaintiff’s complaint contained an allegation that the defendant had been outside the State of Texas for a number of days and unavailable for service of process. The plaintiff had also argued in his response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment that his claims were not time-barred because the limitations period had been tolled under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Ann. § 16.063, a statutory provision that the plaintiff alleged suspended the statute of limitations during that time that a person against whom a cause of action might be maintained was absent from the state.

Although the defendant argued that her “brief, intermittent absences from Texas” did not toll the statute of limitations because she was a Texas resident at the time of the collision and had remained a Texas resident ever since. In the defendant’s view, because she had only been out of the state for a five-day vacation and the plaintiff’s suit was filed six days past the statute of limitations deadline, the trial court had correctly dismissed his lawsuit against her.

Following “binding precedent,” the court of appeals decided that the defendant’s vacation out of the State of Texas had, in fact, tolled the statute of limitations. The court then took judicial notice of the fact that the plaintiff’s suit had been filed electronically on Labor Day and went on to hold that, because the last day on which the plaintiff could have technically filed his suit given the tolling due to the defendant’s absence was on September 4, a day upon which the courts were closed, the period for filing suit was thus extended to the next day, the day on which the plaintiff’s suit was actually considered filed, due to the holiday. Because the defendant had not affirmatively proven her statute of limitations defense, the trial court had been wrong to grant her summary judgment.

Get Help with Your Case

Although the plaintiff in this case ultimately prevailed on the statute of limitations issue (unless a further appeal is taken to the Texas Supreme Court), the “close call” could have been avoided by filing suit sooner. We don’t know the reasons for the delay – the plaintiff may have thought a settlement was imminent and put off contacting an attorney – but filing suit sooner, rather than later, is the preferred practice. If you need to talk to a lawyer about filing an auto accident lawsuit, reach out to Texas car accident lawyer Earl Drott. You can reach Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300; we offer a free case evaluation and don’t collect a legal fee until your case is over, so there’s no reason to wait.