If you are suing for personal injury, you may be better off in some parts of Texas
Two Texans wake up on the same day and drive to work. They're both working diligently until something terrible happens. A beam drops on one's back, and the other is hurt in a car accident on the job. They are hurt, forced to the hospital and out of work for months.
Their stories are common in Texas, but their outcomes might depend on where they woke up that morning.
If you believe that all Texas districts and courts are equal, you are wrong.
Texas is a big state with a diverse electorate. Given that fact, the judges and juries in some parts of the state are more defendant-friendly than in others. It's critical to know this and have a personal injury lawyer who also knows it.
Forum-shopping for the Rio Grande Valley
While the Eastern District federal courts in Texas have grown a reputation for providing plaintiff-friendly hunting grounds in intellectual property lawsuits, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is the place to be for plaintiffs bringing personal injury lawsuits.
It's difficult to tell why juries in the Valley tend to give plaintiffs bigger judgments. Whatever the reasons, juries there have developed a strong reputation for helping people walk away with large paydays. Some argue there's extra empathy for injured people in the Valley, and some argue that a closeness exists in many counties near the border that allows jury members to empathize more with injured people.
Good personal injury lawyers have shown an ability to identify good venues and present compelling cases in those venues. (See 13 other things your personal injury lawyer will do for you.)
Many plaintiffs underestimate the effect of combining the proper venue with the proper lawyer. Having a lawyer who understands what he is walking into in a certain part of Texas can go a long way to producing a great result.
Defendant-friendly cities in Texas
Dallas and Houston have become known for their friendliness to defendants.
While it's still possible for an injured plaintiff to get a good payoff in these courts, many have found that the judges have a stronger lean toward defendants, and that juries award lower amounts to injured people. One might hypothesize that because of the business interests in Dallas and Houston, companies have been able to support the campaigns of judges in the cities.
In addition, Houston and Dallas feature some of the best law firms in the country.
Defendants there are represented by high-powered lawyers who are trained well and have plenty of resources in the war chest. This makes it harder for plaintiffs to win at all, and when they do win, it makes it more difficult for them to get a big judgment.
Many plaintiffs are realizing that they need to have a great attorney on their side to account for the challenges of going up against a white shoe law firm in one of these cities.
Despite the trends, trial can be a crapshoot
Even if you happen to be in a plaintiff-friendly county, you aren't guaranteed a win. In fact, you are not even guaranteed a trial in that county.
Each case is different, and good personal injury lawyers in Texas work hard to present a compelling case:
- Knowing how to pick a jury is critical to mitigate the effect of a defendant-friendly area or take further advantage of an area where plaintiffs are given the benefit of the doubt.
- At times, it can be possible to choose where you bring your lawsuit within Texas.
To give yourself the best chance, keep in mind which part of Texas is friendly to plaintiffs, and ensure that you have a lawyer on your side who understands precisely how to play the game in order to get the most out of whatever forum options you may have available.
3 common principles that govern jurisdiction
Generally, when dealing with claims that do not meet diversity jurisdiction requirements, there are 3 common principles that govern jurisdiction:
Situs - the jurisdiction in which the injury took place
Domicile of the Defendant – where the defendant lives
Domicile of the Plaintiff – where you live
For example, if I live in Dallas and you live in Houston, and we get into a car accident in San Antonio, I cannot sue you in the Rio Grande Valley because maybe the judges are nicer, the juries are nicer and the attorneys are better.
This is referred to as jurisdiction hunting. It is discouraged and can amount to a suit being dismissed.
On the other hand, I could try to sue you in Dallas, because it would be more favorable to me, as I would be a citizen of Dallas in this example.
Then again, there is no guarantee. The defendant may attempt to remove the case to their own jurisdiction of where they live under forum non conveniens. Texas practices forum non conveniens, or Inconvenient Forum. It is listed in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
There's never a guarantee in personal injury law. Things can happen and juries can make independent decisions. The smart move is to give yourself the best advantage possible by choosing a personal injury attorney who can help guide you on this and other matters in your accident case.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.