Can You Sue a Corporation in Texas?
The short answer is that yes, you can sue a corporation in Texas. You can sue a corporation for almost any reason that would justify a lawsuit against an individual person, including personal injury.
It is not terribly difficult to clear up some of the legal problems that arise from suing a legal person (an organization) versus suing a natural person (a biological individual). You must also observe certain legal formalities.
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What Is a Legal Person?
The first problem with suing a corporation is that corporations do not actually exist. A corporation is a legal fiction; it exists nowhere outside the human mind. Nonetheless, we pretend that they exist, and we organize our affairs as if they did.
So, if a corporation is nothing but a figment of the human imagination, how do you sue one? Well, you pretend that it exists, file the lawsuit paperwork, and then organize your affairs as if you are suing something that actually exists.
The Doctrine of Respondeat Superior
The second problem with suing a corporation, at least for personal injury, is that since a corporation is a fictional entity, it cannot do anything that would justify you filing a lawsuit against it. A corporation itself cannot breach a duty of care, for example.
The Problem of Agency
This problem is easy to solve when you realize that the legal doctrine of respondeat superior states that a corporation acts through its agents. You can sue the corporation for the actions of employees who act on behalf of the corporation, for example.
You must therefore make a distinction between an action that an employee takes on their own behalf, and an action that an employee takes on behalf of the company.
This is a frequent issue in personal injury claims. You might imagine, for example, that if a corporate employee commits a wrongful act that injures someone, and the injured party sues the corporation for the misconduct of its employee, the question is whether the employee was on the clock at the time of the accident.
This is not the case, however. The question is whether the employee was “acting within the scope of employment” at the time of the accident.
Filing a Lawsuit: The Process
Bear in mind that the main reason why most personal injury plaintiffs file lawsuits is to pave the way for an eventual settlement. It sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense under many circumstances. You might file a lawsuit, for example, to:
- Beat the statute of limitations deadline;
- Play mind games with a stubborn corporate defendant; or
- Gain access to the pretrial discovery process.
Among these three reasons, reason #3 is the most common reason why plaintiffs file personal injury lawsuits.
Complete the following preliminary research before you file your lawsuit:
- Confirm that the statute of limitations deadline has not expired. For a Texas personal injury claim, the deadline is usually two years after the date of the injury in question.
- Identify the substantive law that the corporation violated.
- List the elements that you need to prove to win your claim and make sure you can prove them on a “more likely than not” basis. If your claim is based on negligence, for example, you might list duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Identify the court in which you should file your petition. You should be able to file your petition in the court that sits in the same county as the principal office of the defendant corporation.
Speak with your lawyer about any more research you might need to perform.
In Texas, a document called the “petition” is the foundational document that you use to file a lawsuit. Your petition must include:
- A clear statement of the basic facts of the case that support your personal injury claim. You could mention, for example, that the corporation’s employee caused a traffic accident in a company vehicle while on duty, and then invoke respondeat superior to shift liability to the corporation.
- State how the corporation’s employee broke the law (by negligently injuring you in a traffic accident, for example).
- List the elements of your claim. In a negligence claim, you would list duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Ask the court for a specific amount of money damages.
- List the names and addresses of all parties.
Add in any other information that the court requires.
The Filing Fee
Filing fees vary by county, but you will probably end up having to pay a couple of hundred dollars to file your lawsuit.
Service of Process
You must normally notify the defendant corporation of the proceedings against it. In particular, you must notify it of:
- Why you are suing;
- The legal basis of the lawsuit (negligence law and respondeat superior, for example);
- The remedy you are seeking (money damages); and
- The fact that the defendant ist respond and appear in court.
Put all of this information into a document known in Texas as a “citation” (most other jurisdictions call it a “summons’ ‘).
You must then arrange for a neutral third party to deliver the citation and a copy of your petition to the appropriate representative of the defendant.
Take care to deliver these documents to the corporation’s registered agency for service of process, which should be included on their Articles of Incorporation, publicly available through the Texas Secretary of State website. You cannot deliver these documents yourself.
After Filing Your Lawsuit
After filing your lawsuit, wait for the defendant to respond. The defendant might:
- Ignore your lawsuit. If this happens, you win a default judgment.
- File an answer to your petition, in which case it is “game on”; or
- Answer and file a counter-petition, in which case the defendant is attempting to make you the defendant, at least for a certain aspect of the case.
If the defendant counter-petitions, you will have to answer the defendant.
Pretrial discovery is the process where the parties demand information from each other. Either party can ask the court to sanction an uncooperative party. Discovery gives both parties access to the following three legal tools:
- Interrogatories: Written questions from one party to the other.
- Production of documents: a demand for one party to grant the other party access to specified documentation.
- Depositions: The parties question each others’ witnesses under oath.
The last stage before an actual trial is to use the evidence you gathered during pretrial discovery as leverage to compel the other side to settle on your terms.
You Probably Need a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer To File a Lawsuit Against a Corporation
Lawsuits can get complex, which is why you probably need a lawyer to file one. Yes, it is possible to file a lawsuit in small claims court for claims of up to $20,000. Small claims court relaxes some of the procedural rules to make it easier for non-lawyers to sue.
The danger, however, is that if you are not trained in law, you will get in over your head without realizing it. Talk to a Houston personal injury lawyer before you decide.