New Texas legislation may affect wrongful death claims

The Texas legislature has recently passed two new bills that can have an influence on the ability of non-state residents to file wrongful death claims in the state as well as the circumstances under which a defendant’s net worth can be determined for purposes of assessing punitive damages.

House Bill 1692: This bill will change present Texas law concerning improper legal forum considerations. Up to now, even if the incident underlying a lawsuit did not take place in Texas, a Texas trial court still could not entertain a defendant’s motion to dismiss the case as long as at least one plaintiff in the action is a legal resident of the state. 

The new bill tightens the legal residency requirements so that inconvenient forum considerations must now take place for each plaintiff individually – that is, in an action with multiple plaintiffs, any plaintiff who cannot meet the criteria for being a legal Texas resident (or a derivative claimant of such a legal resident) will no longer be able to rely on the presence of another legal resident to preclude a motion to dismiss that plaintiff’s claim based on improper forum. Furthermore, the bill excludes personal representatives administrators and guardians as plaintiffs unless they can show that they are derivative claimant’s illegal Texas resident.

Senate Bill 735: Texas law has allowed the net worth of the defendant to be considered when determining the amount of punitive damage awards. This new bill limits the ability of the court to authorize discovery of net worth evidence to situations in which the plaintiff demonstrates a substantial likelihood of success of proving a claim for punitive damages. The bill will also require that the means of discovery be the least burdensome method available to obtain net worth evidence, and further restricts the ability of any appeals court to reviewing only the evidence submitted by the parties to the trial court with regard to the motion seeking discovery.

Provided that they are signed by the governor of Texas, both of these bills will become state law effective September 1, 2015, and will affect lawsuits filed on or after that date.

Changes in state law that can affect personal injury and wrongful death claims require personal injury attorneys to constantly be on alert for such changes, and to be able to adapt to them as necessary to continue to provide the best legal representation to their clients.