The Six Steps Leading To Trial in Civil Court

The first step to begin a lawsuit in Texas is to finding a lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced in the area of your legal concern.

Step 1: When considering a lawsuit in the state of Texas, it’s best to select a lawyer whose expertise surrounds your area of concern.

Step 2: Filing an original petition or complaint officially begins the lawsuit process. Included in the complaint are the facts of the case. The complaint will tell a story and outline legal issues associated with the potential defendant. This is a request to the court to directly serve the defendant who has a set time to respond.

Step 3: When the defendant enters his answer, so begins the Discovery Phase. This process can take anywhere from months to years. Rules of engagement are fairly loose within the Discovery Phase allowing for mass amounts of evidence to be revealed. Discoveries include depositions, disclosure of witnesses, experts, documents, records, and other important information.

Step 4: Most Texas courts will require both sides to mediate before incurring the cost of going to trial. With an experienced, neutral party present, both sides will present their case and seek the advice from the neutral mediator. If going to trial, both sides will attempt to gauge the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Often, this is a good indicator of trial outcome.

Step 5: Pre-trial conferences allow both sides direct interaction with the presiding judge. This takes place one week before the trial and is a final attempt to settle out of the courtroom. All three sides agree to the disputed and undisputed issues and present the evidence they intend to present. In turn, the judge is able to plan a rough trial timeline.

Step 6: If all fails, you are headed to trial and you case will be placed on the court’s docket.

Family Violence Under Texas Law

Self-defense under Texas law states: “A person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the others use or attempted use of unlawful force.”

The jury determines what is “reasonable” based on the testimony and physical evidence. This creates more complication and is therefore less straightforward as most evidence within a family violence case is based on he-said, she-said.

Family law cases create a unique environment because most of the evidence is hearsay from both sides mixed with neutral witnesses. This lawful process creates opportunity for a strong defense as the prosecution must prove reasonable doubt based on verbal recounts. In turn, the environment creates challenges for the prosecution to eliminate all doubt based on the truthfulness perceived from biased and neutral witnesses.

Victims who play chief witnesses in the case present challenges for the prosecution. If they are cooperating, their testimony can be easily thrown out based on victim motive. Naturally, there are many circumstances that can cause strong emotion on both sides. Evidence in a criminal trial can be used additionally as evidence in the impending civil cases when deciding custody and other financial domestic outcomes. Often, living situation plays a chief role in the validation of the victim’s testimony. If any sense of vengeful motive is detected within testimony, statements can quickly be thrown out. Jury is well prefaced with this information prior to trial. Have they recent moved out? How long have they co-habited? Do they have impending divorce, separation, or custody cases?

Unique to family violence cases, previous misdemeanor convictions can serve as validation to increase judgment to felony charges. In other misdemeanor cases, previous convictions rarely can be admitted based on “you did it then, you’ve done it now” or “you did it then, therefore, it’s more likely you’ve done it now.” However, family violence case prosecution must introduce this information in order to boost the offense from misdemeanor to felony.

Also unique to family violence cases is the relationship between both parties. In the eyes of the juror, both sides could be at fault for the deterioration of the relationship and the cause for the incident. In other violent crimes, the offender and victim are more clearly defined. When plaintiff and defendant are on somewhat level playing fields, the jurors take more into account the character of the individuals. Who seems more credible based on the information presented and the way the information was presented? Hearsay testimony from both sides and neutral parties create strong reasonable doubt.

Family violence cases in Texas provide the opportunity for both sides to explain their side of the story. In the eyes of a juror, the testimony of the defendant is often the more logical whereas the testimony of the victim more emotional. Hearing the defendant side of the story can often create a logical and reasonable doubt among jurors.

Those who testify must maintain composure during rigorous cross examination. Testifying carries risks. These risks are thoroughly expressed to both sides before they take the stand. Aggressive lines of questioning lead many to lose their cool. Jurors sense aggression and will connect aggressive behavior in the court room to habitual aggressive behavior outside the courtroom. However, calm and rational responses from defendants will create a rapport with jurors and helps create reasonable doubt. Emotional outbursts certainly lead to conviction. The goal of the defendant is to turn the table and make the cross examiner seem like the aggressor.

Employer Liability in Car Accident Cases

If a car accident occurs while an individual is driving a vehicle in order to perform his or her work duties or to do something for his or her employer, there may be employer liability. This is most often a problem in cases in which a truck driver or a commercial vehicle driver causes an accident and his or her employer is sued. In any case, whether or not an employer will be liable depends on whether there is some legal reason for assigning responsibility to the employer.

When Does Employer Liability Arise?

There are two main ways that an employer can be held liable for a car accident caused by an employee: negligence on the part of the employer and vicarious liability.

Employer Negligence

Employer negligence may involve, for instance, negligent hiring of the employee or negligent supervision of the employee. When a company hires someone that they know will be driving a company vehicle, the employer has a duty to exercise reasonable due diligence in order to make sure that the employee is a safe driver.

At a minimum, if the employee is going to be driving a commercial vehicle, the employer should make sure that the employee has a commercial driver’s license that is in good standing and that has not been suspended. Many employers also take additional precautions like checking a past driving record or performing drug testing.

Negligent Supervision

Negligent supervision is another way in which an employer can become responsible for employee accidents. Employers should have reasonable safety policies in place and should make sure all of their drivers comply with safety laws. This means if an employer has truck drivers working for him/her, the employer should make sure the drivers follow logging requirements set by federal and state law and that cargo is properly weighted and loaded. If an employer fails to check and make sure that the employee is exhibiting reasonable care and skill in doing the job required, then that employer is liable for negligence.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability doesn’t necessarily require that the employer was negligent in any way themselves. Vicarious liability is a doctrine of law that asserts that the actions of an agent are essentially the same as the actions of the principle directing the agent. This means that an employer is considered to be the “principle”, and when the employer tells employees (the agents) to do something, it is just as if the principle is the one acting. Of course, this rule only applies if the agent is actually in the process of doing something for the principle at the time when the accident happened.

For example, if an employee is sent to the store to pick up copies and got into an accident on the way to picking up those copies, then the employer could be liable. If the employee decides to stop for coffee on the way back and gets into an accident while getting coffee, he/she isn’t acting on behalf of the employer/agent, so the employer usually won’t be responsible. There are also usually exceptions that an employer will not be liable for intentional bad acts done by the employee, so if the employee decides he wants to run someone over, the employer won’t be at fault.

Getting Help

If you have been involved in an accident in which employer liability might become an issue, consulting with a lawyer is recommended. Your attorney can explain to you what liability rules will apply in your case and how your legal rights can be best protected based on the situation that led to the accident.