Texas Court of Appeals Rules on Statute of Limitations in Automobile Accident Case, Siding with Defendant

Under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 16.003(a), a person who sustains an injury due to the alleged negligence of another party must bring suit within two years of the day that the cause of action accrued (usually the day of the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries).

Although there are a few exceptions to this general rule, most personal injury claims that are not filed within two years of an accident will be dismissed on procedural grounds.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the Court of Appeals of Texas, the plaintiff was a man who alleged that he was injured when his vehicle was struck from behind while he was stopped at a red light. He filed suit against the defendant, the owner of the truck, alleging a claim of negligence. About five months after the statute of limitations had expired, the plaintiff made a negligence claim against the other defendant, the apparent driver of the truck that struck the plaintiff. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant driver on the affirmative defense of the statute of limitations. The plaintiff appealed. (Summary judgment was also entered in favor of the defendant truck owner, but the plaintiff did not appeal that decision.)

The Court of Appeals’ Ruling

On appeal, the plaintiff urged that the defendant driver should have been equitably estopped from asserting the statute of limitations to defeat the plaintiff’s negligence claim. As grounds, the plaintiff insisted that he had raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant owner’s insurance company had misrepresented or concealed facts about the driver’s true identity. The plaintiff further asserted that the insurance company had withheld knowledge and remained silent when it should have told him of the driver’s identity and that he had reasonably relied on the insurance company’s misrepresentations because he had no means of knowing the identity of the driver.

The court noted that the plaintiff’s cause of action had accrued on the day of the accident, even though the amount of his damages was not fully known at that time. Thus, the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant driver was made well after the statute of limitations had run. The defendant driver having established all of the elements of the limitations defense as a matter of law, the burden then shifted to the plaintiff to defeat the defendant driver’s affirmative defense.

The court set forth the elements of equitable estoppel:  “(1) a false representation or concealment of material facts; (2) made with knowledge, actual or constructive, of those facts; (3) with the intention that it should be acted on; (4) to a party without knowledge or means of obtaining knowledge of the facts; and (5) who detrimentally relies on the representation or concealment.” Since the plaintiff had no special relationship with the insurance company that represented the defendant truck owner, the court held that the insurance company owed him no duty, and his estoppel defense thus failed.

Speak to a Knowledgeable East Texas Car Crash Attorney

This case illustrates why it is so important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after an accident. Waiting until just before the statute of limitations runs to seek counsel can result in many procedural pitfalls, including naming the wrong party as a defendant. To schedule a free consultation with a seasoned east Texas car accident attorney, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300. Our offices are located in Tyler, and we help clients throughout Smith County and east Texas.

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