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Responding To a Personal Injury Lawsuit: Do You Know Your Legal Rights?

Being involved in a car accident can leave you shaken up and lost about what to do next. Injuries are possible, along with vehicle damage. As you’re trying to navigate your insurance claim and recover from your trauma, the last thing you need is to learn you’re being sued for the accident.

Being the recipient of a lawsuit can be frightening—and what happens if the plaintiff’s suit is ultimately successful? Knowing the steps to take after being served a car accident lawsuit can make a difference in your case.

Insurance Requirements in Texas

If you have a vehicle registered in Texas you must meet the minimum insurance requirements, and there aren’t any exceptions. If you’re pulled over driving without insurance there’s a good chance you’ll receive a traffic ticket. Your vehicle may even be impounded until you provide proof of insurance.

So, what are the minimum insurance requirements? All drivers must carry the following in liability insurance:

  • $30,000 in bodily injury per person
  • $60,000 per accident for bodily injury
  • $25,000 in property damage per accident

The minimum liability insurance amounts are higher for commercial and rideshare drivers.

Compensation in an At-Fault State

Texas is an at-fault state—so what does this mean for your lawsuit? Before you’re served with papers indicating the plaintiff is suing you for damages, they first file a claim with your auto insurance provider. In simple terms, if you’re responsible for the accident, the other involved driver/s immediately file a claim with your insurance provider. Their auto insurance isn’t responsible for covering any of the damages.

However, Texas is also a modified comparative negligence state, and this can be a little confusing. Modified comparative negligence rules allow an individual to recover damages even if they’re partially responsible for the vehicle accident, but there is a stipulation.

The at-fault driver can’t be more than 50% responsible. Their compensation is also reduced by the same percentage as their fault. For example, if you’re 30% at fault, your compensation amount is reduced by 30%. If you’re facing a lawsuit after an accident, comparative negligence rules may work in your favor. You may be able to recover some of your damages or reduce the plaintiff’s award.

Your Liability Insurance Can Help with Your Lawsuit

Liability insurance is legally required to support you if another driver files a lawsuit against you after a vehicle accident. Most personal injury lawsuits are the result of a breakdown in negotiations between the at-fault driver’s insurance company and the plaintiff.

In other words, your insurance provider isn’t willing to compromise on the plaintiff’s claim. To recover all of their asked-for damages, the plaintiff’s attorney typically takes the claim to civil court. Since you’re at least partially responsible for the accident, you’re named as a defendant.

Your insurance company is required to provide you with a defense, and most don’t have a problem living up to this expectation. After all, the insurance company is usually the one covering everything from court costs to the final settlement amount. The insurance company has a vested interest in ensuring you’re not found to be liable for more than your fair share of the damages.

Did you know your insurance provider may even provide you with legal representation? This is one less thing you need to worry about and can take away some of the stress you may feel after being served with papers in a lawsuit.

What Happens When Damages Exceed Insurance Limits

Since your auto insurance typically covers damages when you’re responsible for the accident, you may be what’s considered judgment-proof. The plaintiff can’t sue you for damages if they settle with your insurance company, which also applies if your case heads to court.

However, remember the minimum liability insurance requirements? Sometimes your insurance coverage isn’t enough to cover all of the damages, but this usually only applies when injuries and property damage are catastrophic. Damages may total in the hundreds of thousands or even over a million dollars. Chances are, this is more than your insurance coverage. When this happens, you may find yourself responding to a personal injury lawsuit.

Unless you have significant assets, think of those owned by the country’s top one percent; your only option may be to file for bankruptcy. Yes, your credit score is going to take a significant hit but it may be the only option. However, most personal injury lawsuits are settled for a more reasonable amount. Plaintiffs typically prefer recouping some of the losses instead of receiving little in the way of compensation.

Protecting Your Rights During a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you’re named as a defendant in a car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff must serve you with papers. These papers are simply an official notice of the lawsuit and contain a summary of the complaint.

Yes, the papers must be delivered by hand, usually by a neutral third party. No, you can’t try to hide from the third-party process server. If the plaintiff proves you’re purposefully hiding from the process server you may be found to be in contempt of court. Fines and even jail time are possible, and it’s not a great way to start your defense.

Once you receive the papers, you have 20 days to file a formal written answer. If you don’t have legal representation, now’s the time to work with an attorney. Your written response must meet specific legal requirements. You can also include a counterclaim in your response if you believe the plaintiff is partially or fully responsible for the accident.

Refer All Additional Paperwork to Your Attorney

Once you retain legal counsel either through your insurance or on your own, all future communications regarding the lawsuit should go directly to your attorney. Why? There are a couple of good reasons to cut off all communications on your end.

To start, lawsuits are often complex legal issues and you don’t have the knowledge to craft appropriate responses. After all, emotions also tend to run high and you don’t want to say anything that may be used against you in the lawsuit.

Don’t Deal with a Personal Injury Lawsuit on Your Own

If you find yourself named in a lawsuit following a vehicle accident, remember that you have legal rights behind you. However, protecting these rights is your responsibility. The most effective way to do this is by working with an experienced attorney.

An attorney can help ensure that you are not held responsible for more than your fair share of the blame, guiding you through the legal process and advocating on your behalf.

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