Dallas Truck Accident Attorney Explains the Process:
Part 1: Filing Suit
In Part 1 of this three part series on commercial vehicle injury case litigation, Dallas accident attorney Michael Grossman discusses the details of filing truck accident lawsuits in Dallas County Court.
Covered in This Article
- What Exactly Is a Lawsuit and How Does It Work?
- What Must be Done BEFORE a Lawsuit Is Filed
- Elements and Structure of an Accident Lawsuit
- What Happens After the Lawsuit is Filed?
Despite the general public’s familiarity with the term “lawsuit,” most non-attorneys have little practical understanding regarding how a lawsuit works, when to file suit, how to file, or even exactly what a lawsuit is. If you’ve sustained an injury in a commercial vehicle accident, this informative page is provided by our Dallas attorneys to help you gain an adequate understanding of how to file a lawsuit and litigate a case in a Dallas-area court.
What Exactly Is a Lawsuit and How Does It Work?
The general public often thinks of a lawsuit as being an all-powerful document that, when filed with the court, results in a financial free-for-all whereby the plaintiff will obtain a large sum of money. However, this could not be further from the truth.
A lawsuit is only a powerful legal instrument insofar as it is the mechanism by which you bring your case to the court’s attention. What the general public does not typically understand is that the plaintiff who files a lawsuit, in fact, bears a significant burden to prove to the court that their claims are true and that the court should compel the defendant to pay the plaintiff. There is no guarantee of compensation inherent in a lawsuit. A truck accident lawsuit is simply the official manner by which you inform the court that you have been injured in an 18-wheeler accident and that you are requesting that the court compel the defendant trucking company to provide you with compensation.
There Are Several Important Steps that Must be Taken BEFORE a Lawsuit Is Filed
Some cases legitimately do require a lawsuit to be filed immediately in reaction to some urgent happening. However, in the vast majority of cases, a lawsuit is filed only once your attorneys have some inclination as to the defendant’s position. If the defendant refuses to cooperate, then a lawsuit is the only option. But so long as the defendant is reasonably cooperative, then diplomacy goes a long way. As such, your attorneys will be able to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident, identify the nature of the arguments that will be made, determine the value of your case, allow you to finish obtaining medical attention, etc. prior to filing suit, thereby leaving open the possibility to settle out of court. Settlements save you the expense of additional attorney’s fees and court costs, and is legitimately the best option for most clients. But when the defendants leave you no choice but to go to war, the court must be relied upon so that your rights can be preserved, and a lawsuit is the first step in the march toward trial.
Elements and Structure of a Truck Accident Lawsuit
A lawsuit, also known as the Plaintiff’s Original Petition, is filed with the court for the purpose of requesting the court hear your case and decide upon the allegations therein, and ultimately force the defendant to compensate you for the injuries you sustained at the hands of the truck driver and his employer.
- Parties Of the Lawsuit – The first section of the lawsuit simply lists the parties of the lawsuit. You and any other plaintiffs (Oftentimes the close family members of a truck accident victim will have a “bystander” or “loss of consortium” claim in addition to your claim which is, of course, the primary claim) are named first and the defendants are named next. This is where the familiar case “styles” come from such as “Roe v. Wade.” The format is plaintiff v. defendant. It is important to note that all defendants must be named in the lawsuit. While many truck accidents in Dallas are simply a matter of 18-Wheeler (A) crashes into Car (B), some are more complex and will feature numerous defendants.
For instance, if a manufacturer of widgets loaded their widgets onto a trailer and the trucking company then picked up the shipment, any accident that resulted from improperly loaded cargo spilling onto the roadway would be the fault of both the trucking company/ truck driver AND the company who loaded the trailer. Both of those defendants (the trucking company and the widget manufacturing company) must be named in the lawsuit. Additionally, in order for any court orders to be of consequence, you must properly name the parties. If the trucking company is doing business as Bob’s Trucking but they are really a subsidiary of World’s Worst Truck Drivers Inc., then you must name both corporate entities in the lawsuit just to adequately account for the single defendant. Again, it is vital to name all of the parties and to name them properly.
- Jurisdiction and Venue – Your lawsuit must next display that the case meets the requirements to be heard in that particular court by showing both the court you’re filing with has jurisdiction and that it is the proper venue. Jurisdiction is the first matter that must be addressed. Certain courts will have original jurisdiction over certain types of cases, and it is your attorney’s job to determine which court has jurisdiction over your case.
A good way to illustrate the concept of jurisdiction is to consider the difference between local Dallas police and the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Surely, the local police have adequate jurisdiction to make arrests and enforce laws in the City of Dallas. However, if a crime committed in Dallas involves a fully automatic machine gun, the BATFE may intervene and “pull rank” on the local police by virtue of the fact that the BATFE has jurisdiction over such matters. Alternatively, if you discover that your neighbor has stolen a car, you would call the local police instead of the BATFE because the BATFE does not have jurisdiction over that particular matter. Courts work the same way. For instance, you can’t file your truck accident lawsuit with the Texas Supreme Court or an Appellate Court since neither have jurisdiction over the matter your suit addresses.
While many areas in Texas rely on county courts to hear matters that are relatively small in terms of the amount in controversy and rely on district courts to handle larger matters, Dallas County Court is unique in that there is no practical limit on the value of a claim that can be heard. As such, many plaintiffs lawyers file truck accident lawsuits in Dallas County Court since there is little reason not to. However, the lawsuit must also inform the court that the plaintiff feels that said court serves as the proper venue, or as is often stated in the lawsuit, “…the events or omissions giving rise to this lawsuit occurred in this county…”.
Texas laws generally hold that a particular court is the proper venue when it presides over the area where the accident occurred, or if it is in the trucking company’s principle place of business. If there is some reason that the court is technically appropriate but some circumstance makes the court biased against the plaintiff (for instance, if the suit is filed in a court in a small town and the defendant is the number one employer in that town, the jury pool may be inclined to unfairly side with the defendant), then the plaintiff may request a change of venue. All things considered, Dallas is a good venue to try or litigate a truck accident injury case, a fact that we’ve illustrated time and time again.
- Statement of Facts – The next section of the lawsuit will include a general statement of facts along the lines of, “On the night of April 22, 2015, plaintiff sustained a catastrophic brain injury when his vehicle was sideswiped by an 18-wheeler on I-30 near downtown Dallas…” This section is fairly self-explanatory.
- Pleading the Causes of Action – The plaintiff must then explain and validate the various causes of action that they feel were borne of the defendant’s negligence. Some causes of action are statutory in nature, while the majority are derived from common law and are based on various theories of negligence. For instance, if the plaintiff knew that the truck driver was texting while driving and feels such a distraction caused the accident, the lawsuit would explain to the judge that the defendant was negligent for failing to keep a proper lookout, among other forms of negligence.
Additionally, if the accident was the result of an act of negligence that also constituted breaking a codified law, causing harm that the law was intended to prevent, then the lawsuit will accuse the defendant of negligence per se. For instance, if a truck driver runs a stoplight and crashes into your car, they are negligent per se because they broke the law when they ran the stop sign, and stop sign laws exist to prevent just such an accident. The distinction is subtle but important due to the way it forces the defendant to respond to the lawsuit.
- Prayer – Lastly, the lawsuit includes a section called the prayer, whereby the plaintiff pleas with the court to compel the defendant to respond to the lawsuit and, if the plaintiff’s arguments are found to be true and factual, to compel the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for damages. Many lawsuits filed will demand some astronomically large amount of money. While this is good for grabbing headlines, it typically does not serve any other practical purpose, and most of our lawsuits are filed requesting “unspecified damages.” Put simply, we request for what is truly owed.
What Happens After the Lawsuit is Filed?
Now that the lawsuit has been filed, litigation will commence in earnest. Over the coming months, both sides will use the authority of the court to compel one another to produce documents, procure official statements from their clients, and to generally share information such that both sides know where the other stands.
Make no mistake about it, litigation is an art as much as it is a science. A skilled litigator knows how to follow the rules yet still not sacrifice anything on his client’s behalf. By deftly maneuvering his client through the process, a skilled litigator will maximize the value of his client’s case. Unfortunately, there is shortage of law firms who routinely file suit at an inopportune time (or worst, just to get their name in the paper), stumble through litigation blindly or proceed according to alleged conventional wisdom, or will otherwise lack the strategy-focused mindset to adequately litigate a case. Such firms should be avoided. As a general rule of thumb, never hire a Texas attorney to help you litigate your Dallas 18-wheeler accident case unless he can prove to you that he has successfully done so in numerous other cases.
Next in the Series:
- Part 2: Litigating Truck Accident Cases (What happens after suit is filed)
- Part 3: Trying Truck Accident Cases (Going to court in Dallas County)
If you would like to discuss your potential lawsuit in relation to an injury caused by an 18-wheeler, attorney Michael Grossman and the 18-wheeler accident attorneys of Grossman Law Offices are available to provide a free consultation 24/7 at (972) 808-7629,.