The most straightforward kind of personal injury case is one that involves one defendant. With only one person or party alleged to be responsible for the injury, the case focuses on their actions and whether they have legal fault.
But what happens when multiple people may be at fault for a personal injury? What if the other person or party is not even a part of the lawsuit?
When Someone Else Is Responsible for a Personal Injury But Not Part of the Lawsuit
A party who may have legal responsibility for a personal injury and who isn’t actively part of a lawsuit is a responsible third party.
In Texas, a responsible third party may also be referred to in the context of proportionate responsibility.
What Is a Responsible Third Party in a Texas Personal Injury Case?
A responsible third party in a Texas personal injury case is not a party to the case, but they may have legal responsibility for what happened.
To fairly determine the relative or proportionate fault of the defendant, the fault of the responsible third party must also be determined, even though they aren’t formally a part of the lawsuit.
How does Texas law define a responsible third party?
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.011(6) defines a responsible third party as anyone who allegedly caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury by violating any applicable legal standard.
What is the law for responsible third parties in Texas?
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2, Subtitle C, Chapter 33, Subchapter A, Proportionate Responsibility, creates the rules for litigating cases when there is a responsible third party.
How does a responsible third party work in a Texas personal injury case?
If there is a potentially responsible third party, their relative fault must be evaluated and decided on by the jury. It’s essentially the defense blaming someone who isn’t a party to the case for the injury. Once the defense identifies the person as a possible third party, the person can be added to the case in some circumstances.
Does a responsible third party have to be identified before trial?
Yes. The defense cannot wait until trial to point to a third party as having blame for the victim’s injury. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.004 requires them to file a motion for leave to designate the party as a responsible third party.
When can the defense add a responsible third party?
The defense has until 60 days before trial to add a responsible third party to the case. The court may allow a late addition if there is reasonable cause. (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 33.004)
How does the defense add a responsible third party to the case?
The defense may add a responsible third party to a case by filing a motion with the court.
Does a responsible third party have to pay if they’re found at fault by the jury?
No. Unless the responsible third party is added to the case, a finding that they are liable does not impose liability on them.
How does the responsible third party work with the statute of limitations?
Under previous versions of the Texas law, the responsible third-party procedural rules acted as a workaround to the statute of limitations. Even if the plaintiff was past the limitations period to name a specific defendant in the lawsuit, they could still join them. All that was necessary was that the defendant pointed to them as a responsible third party. That enabled the plaintiff to add them as a named party to the suit even though the statute of limitations ran out.
In 2011, Texas lawmakers closed the loophole. The changes impact both the plaintiff and the defendant. On the plaintiff’s end, they may not add a responsible third party as a party to the claim if the applicable limitations period has passed. For the defendant, they must timely comply with discovery requests that include demands for the names and contact information of anyone who may be named as a responsible third party.
The courts ruled on a case involving this very issue. In In re Dawson, 550 S.W.3d 625 (Tex. 2018), the plaintiff served discovery requests on the defendant. The requests asked for the name, phone number, and address of any third party who may have legal liability. The defendant provided only a name and phone number.
Later, the defendant moved to add this same person as a responsible third party. The appeals court ruled that the defendant’s answer to the discovery demand was incomplete. Therefore, the trial court improperly allowed the defense to designate the third party in the case.
What should a plaintiff know when it comes to a responsible third-party designation in litigation?
For a plaintiff in a personal injury suit, there are some things to keep in mind regarding responsible third-party designation in litigation:
- The statute of limitations continues to run against any possible third parties. You must add them as a named party before the statute of limitations expires.
- Include a demand for the name, address, and telephone number of anyone who may be designated as a responsible third party in discovery requests.
- Evaluate any response that you receive in interrogatories. An incomplete answer or a statement that the defense “will supplement” the answer later is likely insufficient for the defense who wishes to add a responsible third party later.
- If a responsible third party is named in litigation, you must be prepared to present evidence and argument to the jury regarding their respective liability and the amount of compensation that you deserve. Do not wait to begin preparing this information.
Lawyers for Personal Injury Claims Involving Responsible Third Parties
A personal injury claim can be especially complex when there is a question of third-party responsibility. At Haun Mena, we understand the civil procedures that are important to achieving success in your claim. These rules are technical and detailed but so important to achieving justice.
Contact us to see how we can help you with your claim. Time limits for certain procedural steps are short, so don’t wait. Call or message us today to begin.