Texas Appellate Court Refuses to Excuse Untimely Service of Process, Saying Hurricane Harvey Only Caused Small Portion of Delay

Getting started on an east Texas car accident case as soon as possible is very important. When a would-be litigant sits on his or her rights, he or she risks possible dismissal of what might otherwise be a valid and potentially valuable claim, if certain procedural hurdles are not met. While there are a few instances in which a lack of timeliness may be excused, these are few and far between, and the burden of proving that the delay was excusable falls on the plaintiff.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case (Tran v. Trejos, Fourteenth Court of Appeals of Texas, No. 14-17-00998-CV), the plaintiff was a man who sought monetary compensation for injuries he suffered in an automobile accident which he alleged was caused by the defendant driver’s negligence. The accident happened on August 27, 2015, and the plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed on January 31, 2017 – well within the two year statute of limitations for personal injury actions set forth in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 16.003. However, service of process was not perfected on the defendant until October 9, 2017, which was several weeks past the two-year limitations period.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint on the grounds that it was barred by the statute of limitations. The District Court of Harris County agreed and entered summary judgment for the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The appellate court affirmed the lower tribunal’s decision. Reviewing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, the court first noted that the burden was on the defendant (as the party moving for summary judgment) to show that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that, therefore, she was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Because she was relying upon the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations, the defendant bore the burden of conclusively establishing all of the elements of that defense, which the court found that the defendant had done.

In order to defeat the defendant’s motion, the plaintiff would had to have presented evidence that created a genuine issue of fact on at least one of the elements of the defendant’s affirmative defense of the statute of limitations. Because the plaintiff admitted that he did not serve a copy of the complaint on the defendant until some 43 days after the statute of limitations had expired, the only way that he could have defeated the defendant’s motion would have been to have demonstrated due diligence during all periods of the delay between the timely filing of his complaint and the untimely service of process on the defendant.

Although Hurricane Harvey hit east Texas during the relevant period and the court system was disrupted for some time thereafter, this alone did not excuse the plaintiff’s delay in serving the defendant. The plaintiff’s complaint had been filed for several months before the hurricane struck, and, according to the court, he had not demonstrated ordinary diligence between the filing of his complaint and the time of the storm.

Contact an Experienced East Texas Car Accident Attorney

Those who have been injured due to a motor vehicle collision caused by another’s negligence have the burden of proving negligence against the opposing party in order to be awarded money damages in a court of law. The first step to this process is filing a claim within the statute of limitations. As this case illustrates, however, simply filing that claim is not always enough, as there are many other steps to the process. To talk to an experienced east Texas car accident lawyer about getting started on a negligence case against the driver who caused an accident in which you or a family member was injured, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300 and ask for a free case review.

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