Dallas Truck Accident Cases Explained by an Attorney:
Part 2: Litigating Your Lawsuit
This article is Part 2 in our 3 part series on litigating a Dallas truck accident, and it specifically covers what happens after your trucking accident claim is filed. Here, we’ll cover a lot of ground on how the process goes and hopefully answer some of the questions you may have, because without the proper know-how, your claim can be damaged beyond repair before you even set foot in the courtroom. You see, in litigating your Texas 18-wheeler accident case, you’re basically attempting to navigate the obstacles and road blocks the trucking companies and their defense lawyers create, road blocks that discourage injured plaintiffs from pursuing recovery in court. So, it is totally normal for you to be confused. If you have any questions on truck accident litigation or need assistance with your claim, read below and call us here at Grossman Law Offices. We’re here 24/7 to get you a fair outcome.
Covered in This Article
- General Overview of Litigation
- Their Answer to the Complaint
- Special Appearances
- Special Exceptions
- General Denials
- Affirmative Defenses
- The Discovery Period
- Types of Discovery
General Overview of Litigation
Once your truck accident claim is filed and the trucking company is served with the lawsuit, the trucking company is given time to have its lawyers respond, or answer to, the complaint. Typically, the trucking company has 20 days from the date served with the lawsuit to file an answer with the court. However, this time frame may vary somewhat depending on the jurisdiction, i.e. state court or federal court. After the trucking company’s lawyer has filed its answer, the discovery process begins. During the discovery period, your attorney should request documents and records from the trucking company that are related to your claim, and usually, the trucking company’s lawyers will do the same. The length of the discovery period can vary, but it normally begins from the time your claim is filed with the court and continues until either both sides have the information they need or until about 30 days before trial, whichever comes first. This entire process, from the time the lawsuit is filed to the settlement, or possible trial, is known as litigation. These steps may seem daunting now, but guaranteed, the right attorney will know how to maneuver each and every one.
The Trucking Company’s Answer to the Complaint
When the trucking company’s lawyer files its answer to your complaint, any defenses or arguments are raised by the trucking company for the first time. These defenses and challenges include filing a special appearance, special exceptions, general denials, and/or affirmative defense arguments. Having the right attorney on your side is essential during this period. Your lawyer should possess the experience and expertise to review the carefully-crafted answers the trucking company’s lawyers have devised in an effort to avoid liability for your injuries, and should in turn, use those responses to create the precise strategy to fight for your rights in court.
A special appearance filing is a time-sensitive response that the trucking company must file either before or with any other answer, plea, or motion they wish to make. If the trucking company fails to file the special appearance at the proper time and in the correct order with their other pleadings, they lose the right to file it at all. In filing a special appearance, the trucking company alleges that the court in which the complaint was filed lacks personal jurisdiction, and therefore, challenges the court’s right to hear the case. Personal jurisdiction is the court’s power over a defendant in a lawsuit or over the defendant’s property in the lawsuit. A special appearance plea made on these grounds alleges the court lacks jurisdiction because the trucking company either has not availed themselves to the state of Texas or has not made sufficient contacts with the state of Texas and cannot be expected to defend themselves in a Texas court. In this, they’re basically arguing that it would be unjust for the case to move forward here.
For instance, “Big Trucking Company” is headquartered and incorporated in California and does not want to defend your trucking injury claim in a court here in Texas. “Big Trucking Company” wants to defend the case in an area that is most convenient to them and not where you the victim have been injured. They will file a special appearance to the jurisdiction of a Texas court because the company is headquartered in California and is a corporate entity there. They will allege it is unfair and unjust for the case to be tried anywhere else. However, “Big Trucking Company” has used Texas highways for its business, has injured you as a Texas citizen, and you have filed your suit in a proper Texas court, therefore “Big Truck Company’s” plea will likely fail.
Special exceptions are the trucking company’s responses that challenge certain aspects of your claim. These special exceptions can be made based on the form or substance of the claim. Challenges to the substance of the claim allege defects in the manner of relief the claim requests or alleges that a legal element of the claim is lacking or inapplicable. Challenges to the form of the claim allege defects in the pleadings such as vagueness, ambiguity, or redundancy. Generally speaking, special exceptions are used as stall tactics by the trucking company and their lawyers to buy more time to formulate a defense or to frustrate you as the plaintiff.
The trucking company’s lawyers don’t fight fair and will file exception after exception to your claim in an effort to generate more billings for themselves and to intimidate you as a plaintiff. These lawyers prey on regular people trying to take on the trucking companies alone and will try to manipulate plaintiffs into giving up. They count on the general public’s lack of knowledge of the law and will do whatever it takes to make your claim go away. The right attorney will be familiar with this strategy by trucking companies and their lawyers, and will expose them for what they are: stall tactics, intimidation, and manipulation used to discourage deserving plaintiffs from pursuing their rights in court.
When the trucking company files a general denial as part of their answer, they are essentially disagreeing with everything in your claim. Once this happens the ball is back in your court, so to speak, and your side has the burden to prove the facts alleged in the lawsuit. General denials are allowed and accepted from defendants in Texas courts. However, general denials are not accepted in federal court. If a claim is filed in federal court instead of state court, the trucking company must complete a line by line denial to each of the claims that you allege in your complaint. Claims not individually denied by the trucking company are deemed an admission made by them.
Affirmative Defense Arguments
If a trucking company is going to put forth any of these affirmative defense arguments against your claims, they must specifically plead these in their answer. If the trucking company fails to do this, they have effectively waived the right to raise this defense later in the case. An affirmative defense is an independent reason given by the trucking company that, if proved, will prevent you as the plaintiff from recovering on some or all of your claims even if what you allege is true.
It is different from the other traditional defenses, because it doesn’t deny that the harmful act happened and doesn’t deny that there are damages, but rather, it alleges that yes, something bad happened and you (the plaintiff) have been hurt, but that for reasons that courts have recognized, they (the defendant) are still not at fault. Some examples of these affirmative defenses include:
- Assumption of Risk – You as the plaintiff were aware of the risk of injury by engaging in the activity, but participated anyway. Your resulting injury was foreseeable and thus recovery on your injury is barred. For example, you accept a ride home from someone that is obviously intoxicated and you are injured when the intoxicated driver causes an accident. If you sue the driver to recover for your injuries they could raise the defense that you assumed the risk of injury by getting in the car with them knowing they were driving intoxicated.
- Contributory Negligence – Your actions played a role in your injury and based on the percentage of fault your actions contributed to your injury, recovery should be reduced by that amount.
- Release of Claims – At some point before or after the injury was sustained you signed an agreement waiving your rights to sue or seek recovery for your injuries or signed an agreement releasing the defendant of any liability for your injuries.
- Statute of Limitations – In Texas, you as an injured person only have two years from the time of your injury in which to file a claim against the trucking company responsible for your injury. If the claim is not filed within this period you are barred from recovering even if your claim is legitimate. Understanding when the statute of limitations has started to run can be tricky and you want to make sure your claim is filed within the right time frame.
- Failure to Mitigate Damages – Under Texas law, even if you are injured you have a duty to do what you can to lessen the amount of damages incurred from the injury. This means you cannot allow our injury to progress in a manner that could have been avoided had the proper medical attention been sought at the time of the injury. Say for example, you tripped and injured yourself on your neighbor’s driveway,sprained your ankle, but failed to seek medical attention. If the sprained ankle worsened to a more serious condition that could have been avoided had you sought the proper medical care at the time of the sprain, you could be barred from recovering on all or part of this claim because you failed to take precautions to limit your injuries.
In truck accidents, the trucking companies and their insurance carriers will raise these defenses and other arguments to limit or eliminate their liability for your injuries. Their lawyers will try to convince you there is no way to prevail because the trucking company’s affirmative defenses void your claims. This is why it is so important to have a firm like Grossman Law Offices defending your rights. We know that just because the trucking company raises an affirmative defense, it does not mean they have defeated your claims. The trucking company still has the burden to prove every one of the affirmative defenses they raise. Grossman Law Offices will put our 25 years of experience fighting these types of claims to protect your interests.
The Discovery Period
After the trucking company has filed their answer, the discovery process begins. In a nutshell, discovery is the period of time during which the defendant and the plaintiff, and their attorneys, request and provide information to each other about the case. Either side can seek to discover any materials that are not privileged and are relevant to the case at hand. Typically, the discovery period begins once the case is filed and will last until about 30 days before trial. Discovery can take many forms and includes admissions, interrogatories, requests for production or inspection, requests for disclosure, and oral depositions.
Types of Discovery
- Admissions – You as the plaintiff or the trucking company as the defendant can make written requests that the other admit the truth of any matter within the scope of discovery. There is no limit on the number of requests for admissions. Unless the responding party objects to the request or asserts a privilege, they must specifically admit or deny the request. If the request cannot be admitted or denied, the party has the duty to explain in detail the reasons that the request cannot be admitted or denied. If the response is not given in a timely manner, the request is then deemed admitted. Once a matter is admitted, it is conclusively established as fact to the party making the admission.
For example, the trucking company’s attorneys may send you a request to admit to the fact you did not seek medical attention for your injuries. Once you respond to this request either admitting or denying the truth of the statement, it will be considered an established fact as it pertains to that question.
- Interrogatories – Interrogatories are written questions asked of a party in the suit. The answers provided in the interrogatories may only be used against that party. For example, let’s say you and a passenger were both injured in the accident with the trucking company, and the trucking company’s lawyers send both you and your passenger a set of interrogatories to answer. The answers your passenger provides to the trucking company in their set of interrogatories cannot be used against you and your claim. Their answers can only be used against them and vice versa. It must be noted that interrogatories are limited to 25 per party. This is important to keep in mind because the trucking company’s lawyers often attempt to use interrogatories to harass and embarrass you with probing questions that are not relevant and have nothing to do with your claim against their client. The right attorney on your side will make sure the trucking company’s attorneys follow the rules, keep the interrogatories within the allowable limit, and respond only to questions relevant to your case.
- Requests for Production or Inspection – A party may serve a request for production or for inspection in order to inspect, sample, test, photograph, and make copies of documents or other tangible things that fall within the scope of discovery. Your lawyer should utilize these requests to get information from the trucking company such as their employee manuals, internal policies, hiring records, and other pertinent information. This helps to get a complete picture of how the trucking company operates their business and demonstrate how the inadequacy of their policies or their failure to take reasonable precautions resulted in their liability for your injuries. These requests can also be served on non-parties to the law suit such as your doctor or physical therapist, or can even be served on the trucking company’s employees if necessary. Requests for production or inspection made to someone that is not a party to the lawsuit must be done by subpoena or court order and they must be specific to documents relevant to the case. For example, if you visited your primary care doctor after your injuries from the trucking accident, the trucking company’s lawyer cannot request that your doctor send your entire medical file. They can only request the medical files related to your injuries from the accident.
- Requests for Disclosure – A request for disclosure is used to find out more basic information related to the case. Either party can use a request for disclosure to find out information such as the correct name of the parties, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of potential parties, the name, address and phone number of any person who may be designated as a responsible third party, the legal theories and general factual basis of any claims or defenses, the amount and method of calculating economic damages, and the name, address, and phone number of persons having knowledge of relevant facts, and a brief statement of each identified person’s connection with the case (e.g., eyewitness, treating physician, investigating officer).
- Oral Depositions – A deposition is basically an interview. Both sides will interview all witnesses and parties in an attempt to learn more about the case, the accident itself, and the people involved. Sometimes a deposition reveals more information and additional depositions must be done at a later date. The right attorney would never let you participate in a deposition alone. They should be there every step of the way to make sure the trucking company’s lawyers follow the proper procedure and do not attempt to get you to answer inappropriate questions.
The trucking company’s lawyers will request a lot of information from you, some of which they may not have a right to. It is important to have experienced accident attorneys like the ones at Grossman Law Offices on your side during the discovery period. We will make sure the trucking company’s attorneys are only provided with the information relevant to the case that they legally can request. Generally speaking, the discovery period is supposed to end when each side has gathered the information they need. However, the trucking company’s lawyers use the discovery period as a fishing expedition and will try to get as much information as they can in order to damage your case against their client. They will drag it out for as long as possible in hopes of finding anything, no matter how small or insignificant they can exploit to bolster their client’s case against you. Grossman Law Office’s Dallas attorneys won’t take that bait and the trucking company and their attorneys will only get the information necessary to the claim.
After the discovery period ends, your lawyers at Grossman Law Offices begin to develop the strategy we will use at trial. We will highlight the weak areas of their case, bolster the strongest areas of your case and we will be prepared to do battle on your behalf. If you or a loved one has been involved in a truck accident, attorney Michael Grossman is here to help. Please feel free to call us at (972) 808-7629 to discuss your case or to learn more about our litigation experience and case results.
Previously In The Series:
Next In The Series:
- Part 3: Trying Truck Accident Cases (Going to court in Dallas County)