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Texas Supreme Court’s Expedited Trial Rules

Texas Supreme Court’s Expedited Trial Rules

In Texas, once your lawsuit is filed, it may take two years or longer before you finally have your day in court.  You may be saying to yourself, “Why should my simple case take two years before it finally goes to trial? I don’t want to be involved in a lawsuit for two years.”  The problem is that insurance companies know that you do not want to be involved in lawsuits for years.  They intentionally engage in obstructive tactics specifically designed delay the trial of your case for as long as possible hoping to mentally wear you down.  And when they believe they have you mentally defeated, they will then make you unreasonable settlement offers hoping that you will accept the low-ball offers just to get out of the suit.

The Texas Supreme Court has recently issued new rules that will help to combat obstructive delay tactics by insurance companies.  However, these rules also carry other consequences that affect your case and the amounts of you can recover at trial.

Expedited Cases Involve Monetary Disputes of $100,000.00 or Less

Your case will only be expedited if you state in your pleading that you seek $100,000.00 or less, inclusive of all damages, costs, penalties, expenses, and attorney’s fees.  All cases that seek a monetary award less than $100,000.00 are automatically subject to the expedited trial rules upon being filed (note, cases brought under the Texas Family Code, Tax Code, Property Code, or Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code are not subject to the expedited rules).  This applies to all cases filed on or after March 13, 2013.

Expedited Cases Have Limited Discovery

Generally, once a lawsuit is filed, the “discovery period” in the lawsuit begins.  This is the part in the lawsuit where you request the other party to produce evidence to support your position and to explain any opposing defenses to your claims.  This is accomplished by sending over written discovery to the opposing party, referred to as interrogatories, requests for production, and request for admissions, and by placing the parties and witnesses under oath and taking their oral depositions.  This is the part of the process that insurance companies engage in most of the obstruction by refusing to comply with written discovery and deposition requests.

In a non-expedited lawsuit, each side receives 25 interrogatories, unlimited requests for production, unlimited requests for admissions, and 50 hours of total deposition time per site.  However, in expedited cases, the discovery period is limited as follows:  Each side is allowed to serve 15 interrogatories, 15 requests for production, 15 requests for admission, and 6 hours of total deposition time per side.

Expedited Cases Proceed to Trial Faster and Have Shorter Trial Lengths

A Court is required to set an expedited case for trial within 90 days after being requested to do so by any party to the suit after the conclusion of the discovery period.  The discovery period ends 180 days after the first written discovery request is served on the other side.  Once a trial date is set, a court may only issue two continuances to delay the case.  These continuances cannot exceed 60 days combined. There is no such limitation on non-expedited cases.   Accordingly, expedited trials move through the court system at a much quicker pace than

In an expedited lawsuit, each side is allowed no more than eight hours to complete their entire trial presentation, including jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and closing arguments.  The court may only grant each side extended time only upon a motion for good cause by the party needing more time.

Damages in Expedited Cases are Capped at $100,000.00

Once a party pleads that it is seeking monetary relief of $100,000.00 or less, it cannot recover more than $100,000.00 even if a jury awards the party monetary amounts that far exceed $100,000.00.  For example, if you file an expedited case and the jury awards you $1 million, you can only recover $100,000.00.

Observations

In cases where the monetary amount in dispute is relatively low, the expedited trial rules appear to be an effective means to protect against ruthless insurance companies who want nothing more than your case to be drug out years before a trial can finally occur.  However, the limitations on discovery could make it difficult for a party to fully develop its case and the monetary cap on damages could be manifestly unjust in the event that a jury determines that your damages far exceed $100,000.00.

If you have questions or concerns about these new Texas Supreme Court expedited rules, contact our legal team and we will be happy to help answer your questions.

 -Scott Braden