Texas Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

The basics of Texas personal injury law, including how long you have to sue, where to file your lawsuit, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, and more.

By , J.D. ● University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray , Attorney ● University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
Updated 4/24/2024

You've been injured in Texas by someone else's wrongdoing, and you have lots of questions. How long do I have to sue? Does it matter where I file my lawsuit? The insurance adjuster says I'm also to blame for the accident. What does that mean for my case? We'll tell you what you need to know.

We start with the Texas personal injury statutes of limitations—laws that limit your time to file a lawsuit in court. From there, we'll explain where your case should be filed, what happens if you're also to blame for your injuries, limits Texas puts on the compensation (called "damages") you can receive for your injuries, and more.

Texas Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

Texas has several statutes of limitations that apply to different kinds of personal injury cases. Here are the ones you're most likely to encounter.

The General Rule: Two Years From the Date You're Injured

Most Texas personal injury lawsuits fall under Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 16.003 (2024). It gives you two years, usually starting on the date you're injured, to file your case in court. Specifically, this is the rule for claims involving:

Other Texas Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

The general rule covers most, but not all, Texas personal injury cases. Here are a couple more oft-seen statutes of limitations.

Medical malpractice. Injured by a health care provider? You can file a Texas medical malpractice lawsuit within two years from the later of:

  • the date of the malpractice, or
  • the date the course of treatment that included the malpractice is complete.

When a young child is injured, a different deadline might apply.

(Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 74.251(a) (2024).)

Defamation of character. You'll need to act quickly if someone makes a false statement of fact about you that harms your reputation. In Texas, you have just one year, usually from the date the statement is first made, to sue for defamation. (Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 16.002(a) (2024).)

(Learn more about Texas defamation lawsuits, including how long you have to sue.)

Can the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations Deadline Be Extended in Texas?

Sometimes, yes. In a handful of situations, Texas law might extend the filing deadline, giving you more time to sue.

The discovery rule. In most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations starts running on the date you're injured. Because you usually know you're hurt as soon as it happens, this isn't a problem. But what happens if you don't realize right away that you've been injured? Your time to file a lawsuit might be ticking away even though you're not aware you have a legal claim. Clearly, that's not fair.

The "discovery rule" is meant to mitigate that unfairness. When you don't know you've been injured, and there's no way you could discover the injury even if you were being diligent to look for signs and symptoms, the statute of limitations clock doesn't run from the date you were hurt. Instead, it starts on the earlier of:

  • the date you discover your injury and what caused it, or
  • the date you should have discovered your injury and what caused it, had you been reasonably careful.

(See Schlumberger Technology Corp. v. Pasko, 544 S.W.3d 834, 834 (Tex. 2018).)

Note that the discovery rule doesn't apply in all cases. The Texas Supreme Court has said that the discovery rule, being an exception to the normal statute of limitations deadline, should rarely be used. (See Berry v. Berry, 646 S.W.3d 516, 524 (Tex. 2022).) Before you try to rely on the discovery rule for more time to file your case, speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Finally, even if you're able to take advantage of the discovery rule, in some cases you'll need to contend with a second deadline, called a "statute of repose." This second deadline puts a limit on the time you have to discover your injury, and it can run out even if you never realize you've been hurt. For example, there's a 10 year statute of repose on medical malpractice lawsuits. The latest you can sue is 10 years from the date of the malpractice. (Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 74.251(b) (2024).)

Injured person is legally disabled. A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own legal affairs without the help of a parent or legal guardian. For purposes of its lawsuit filing deadlines, Texas law recognizes as disabled those who are:

  • younger than 18 years old, or
  • of "unsound mind."

Under Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 16.001 (2024), when someone who's legally disabled suffers a personal injury, the statute of limitations doesn't start running until the disability ends. For this extension to apply, the disability must predate the injury.

Defendant is absent from Texas. When the defendant (the party you're suing) is absent from Texas, and when their absence prevents you from starting a lawsuit against them, the period that they're out of state doesn't count toward the statute of limitations. (Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 16.063 (2024).)

Ask your lawyer if you'll be able to get "service of process" on the absent defendant. If you can, then you probably can't use this extension. (See Ashley v. Hawkins, 275 S.W.3d 175, 179 (Tex. 2009).)

What Happens If I Miss the Filing Deadline?

Should you miss the lawsuit filing deadline—and there's no extension giving you more time—then your legal claim is dead. As far as Texas is concerned, you have no legal claim. Try to file a lawsuit and it will be dismissed as untimely. The court might even sanction (penalize) you for filing a frivolous case.

Don't take unnecessary chances. If you're not absolutely certain about the deadline to file your lawsuit, contact a Texas personal injury lawyer right away.

Where Do I File a Texas Personal Injury Lawsuit?

A word of caution. Unless you plan to file your lawsuit in Texas small claims court—where the damages you collect can't be more than $20,000—you should have a Texas lawyer prepare, file, and handle your case. Why? Among other reasons, because your case will be governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Texas Rules of Evidence.

At best, these rules can be confusing and hard to understand. The time to learn them isn't while you're handling your own personal injury matter. An experienced lawyer knows the rules and how they apply, and will give you the best chance of a successful outcome.

File in the Proper Court

Your lawyer almost certainly will file your case in one of the more than 400 Texas district courts. District courts have the authority to hear most kinds of civil (noncriminal) cases, including personal injury lawsuits. Each Texas county has at least one district court.

Choose the Correct Location

You're not allowed to file in just any district court. Your lawyer must choose the correct "venue," or location, in which to sue. In most personal injury cases, you're probably allowed to file your lawsuit in the place where:

  • the defendant lives
  • if it's a company, the defendant has its main place of business, or
  • your injury happened.

In certain kinds of cases, different venue rules apply. Your lawyer can fill you in on the details.

(Learn more about how civil lawsuits in Texas work.)

Suing the Government in Texas

Lots of special rules apply when you're injured by the Texas government—state or local—or a government employee. If you don't follow these rules, chances are you're prohibited from filing a lawsuit.

For starters, as a rule you're only allowed to sue the government for injuries caused by negligence. In addition, before you can file a lawsuit in court, you must give the government written notice of your claim. The notice period is often very short. In some instances, you might have just 45 days from the date you're injured. Finally, even if you win your case, state law probably limits the damages you're allowed to recover.

(Learn more about the rules for bringing claims against the federal government and the government in Texas.)

What If I'm Partly at Fault for My Injury in Texas?

In the usual personal injury case, to collect damages you must prove that the defendant negligently caused you an injury. Quite often, the defendant will point the finger back at you and say that you were negligent, too. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence." If it succeeds, this defense can reduce or even eliminate the damages you're allowed to collect.

Texas has adopted a version of the comparative negligence defense. Here's how it works.

Texas' Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

Under Texas law, you can collect some damages even if you're partly to blame for the accident, as long as your percentage share of the negligence isn't more than 50%. Up to that point, your share of the blame simply reduces the damages you get. But once your negligence reaches 51%, you're barred from making any recovery. (Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 33.001 (2024).)

How Does the Texas Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you were rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your brake lights wasn't working at the time. After a trial, the jury decides that you were 25% at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 75% to blame. Your total damages add up to $20,000. How much can you collect?

Because you were assigned 25% of the negligence, you can recover 75% of your total damages: $20,000 x 75% = $15,000. The other driver's insurance company will write you a check for that amount. What would be the result had the jury decided you were 51% (or more) to blame? Under Texas' modified comparative negligence rule, you'd get nothing.

Does Comparative Negligence Apply Before I File a Lawsuit?

There's no law saying that the state's comparative negligence rule must apply when you're trying to settle an insurance claim without having filed suit. As a practical matter, though, it will play a role in settlement negotiations.

The other side's insurance adjuster will assess the value of your claimand conduct settlement talkswith an eye toward what might happen in court. Because comparative negligence will be considered there, it's almost certain to be a factor as you try to settle.

Does Texas Have a Personal Injury Damages Cap?

A number of states have placed limits, sometimes called "caps," on the types and amounts of personal injury damages an injured person can receive. Most damage caps target "noneconomic" damages, meant to compensate for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disfigurement.

Some states cap these damages across the board, in all personal injury cases. In other states, caps target specific kinds of lawsuits. Medical malpractice suits are a favorite target.

Texas Medical Malpractice Caps

Texas law caps medical malpractice damages. The amount of the cap varies, depending on whether the suit is against a doctor, an institution like a hospital, or both. (See Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 74.301 (2024).) Different caps apply when medical malpractice results in death.

(Learn more about Texas' medical malpractice damage caps.)

Suits Against the Government

Nearly all states cap the total damages you can collect in an action against the government. Texas is no exception. Your total damages for a claim against Texas can't exceed $250,000 per injured person or $500,000 per incident. (Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 101.023 (2024).) The cap amount varies when you're suing a local government in Texas.

Punitive Damages

Finally, Texas limits punitive damages. (See Tex. Civ. Pract. & Proc. Code § 41.008 (2024).) These damages don't compensate you for your injuries. Instead, they're intended to punish a wrongdoer and deter others from behaving similarly in the future.

Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases, so this cap isn't likely to impact the value of your case.

Get Help With Your Texas Personal Injury Case

We've covered the basics of Texas personal injury law. If you've been injured and think you have a claim, there's still much more you need to know. An experienced Texas personal injury lawyer understands Texas law, the Texas court rules, and your local claim valuation and settlement practices. You can bet the defendant will be represented by legal counsel. To make it a fair fight, you should be too.

When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find a lawyer near you.

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