Can You File a Lawsuit Against a Corporation in Texas?
Yes, you can sue a corporation in Texas. In fact, people sue corporations all the time, and corporations sue each other all the time. When it comes to large corporations, the situation is extreme: the average billion-dollar corporation has hundreds of lawsuits pending against it at any given time.
Suing a corporation requires great care, however, because of the additional complexities involved.
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Natural Persons vs. Legal Persons
Texas law distinguishes between natural persons and legal persons. A legal person is a flesh-and-blood individual, such as the proverbial ‘John Doe.’ A legal person is a ‘person’ who exists only by operation of law. In other words, we treat them like a person because the law tells us to. You can sue a legal person, and you can be sued by one.
Examples of legal persons include Microsoft, Apple, and SpaceX. In Texas, there are four different types of legal persons: corporations, limited liability company’s (LLCs), limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.
Is the Defendant Really a Corporation? Don’t Just Assume
A lot of businesses operate under assumed names. A few (not all that many) even put the abbreviation “Inc.” after their names to indicate that they are corporations. Only the Texas Secretary of State knows for sure. You can search by tax ID number, name, or file number.
Respondeat Superior: A Corporation Acts Through Its Agents
A corporation, being a fictional legal entity, cannot commit a personal injury. It must act through natural persons–its agents. Among a corporation’s agents, the most prominent are its employees.
If you can find a corporate employee who caused your personal injury through misconduct that they committed while in the course of their duties as an employee, Texas law will impute their actions to the corporation. You can then sue the corporation.
Theories of Corporate Liability for Personal Injury
Following are some common theories of corporate liability that might apply to your personal injury claim:
- Negligence: Failure to exercise reasonable care.
- Strict liability: Liability without fault, as with a defective consumer product.
- Vicarious liability: Most commonly, where the corporation bears liability for the misconduct of its employees.
- Breach of warranty
- Failure to warn of the dangers of a product or service (“Should not be taken by pregnant women,” for example).
- Intentional misconduct, such as a ‘road rage’ accident
- Public nuisance, if a corporation’s activities substantially interfere with public rights such as clean air, clean water, or safe roads.
- Environmental liability, such as poisoning by toxic fumes.
In extreme cases, you might even qualify for punitive damages.
How To Sue a Company
Suing a company is a little different from suing an individual, although the basic principles are the same.
Identify the Corporation’s Registered Agent for Service of Process
Assuming that you have confirmed that the business you wish to sue is a corporation, the next step is to find the corporation’s registered agent. Since corporations are fictional entities, you need to find a tangible person who represents the corporation for legal purposes.
That person is the corporation’s registered agent for service of process, appointed by the company. To find the identity of this person, start searching on Texas’s SOSDirect website.
Draft the Lawsuit Complaint
Assuming that you will be filing a personal injury lawsuit, include information about:
- The parties,
- The jurisdiction (why this court is the appropriate court, for example),
- The basic facts of the case,
- The legal justification for filing the lawsuit (the defendant breached their duty of care, for example, and caused you injury),
- Your damages (medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and more), and
- The specific amount of money you demand.
Some lawyers like to skip the last step and let the defendant make the first offer during settlement negotiations. Regardless, it is important to draft your complaint carefully, because every sentence has consequences. It’s best to hire a lawyer and ask them to draft your complaint for you.
File the Lawsuit
Take the following steps to file your claim with the appropriate court:
- Submit the complaint to the court clerk.
- Pay the filing fee. This could cost you a few hundred dollars. If your claim is no more than $10,000 and you file in Small Claims Court, you might even get away with less than $100.
Your lawyer can help you select the appropriate court. The court where the corporation maintains its headquarters is always a good bet, if it is convenient to you. However, it is probably not the only option.
Serve Process on the Registered Agent
Typically, you “serve process” on a natural person by using a neutral third party to personally hand them a summons to court together with a copy of the complaint you filed.
If you are suing a corporation, by contrast, you typically serve the corporation’s registered agent for service of process. If you are unsure who this is, look at the corporation’s information on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.
The defendant has 20 days to file an answer to your complaint. If they don’t, you win automatically (through a default judgment).
The Pretrial Discovery Process
The pretrial discovery process is a great way to obtain enough evidence to compel the defendant to settle on your terms – or to gather enough evidence to win at trial.
Pretrial discovery allows you to demand certain types of evidence from a corporate defendant. If the corporation refuses to cooperate, you can ask the court to apply punitive sanctions.
Following is a list of some of the legal weapons at your disposal:
- Depositions: You can subpoena witnesses from the corporation for questioning. The questioning takes place out of court, but it is still under oath.
- Interrogatories: You can send the defendant written questions, and they must answer them under oath.
- Requests for production: You can demand copies of documents and access to physical evidence.
Beware, however, the defendant can use all of these weapons against you, too. In some cases, you can even subpoena third parties (such as to elicit banking information).
Ironically, suing the opposing party is one of the best ways to eventually win a negotiated settlement. Once you have gathered evidence through the pretrial discovery process, you might consider entering settlement negotiations (or re-entering them if you broke off negotiations before).
If you prefer to settle your claim before trial, you’re probably not alone; the defendant probably feels the same way.
Contact a Fort Worth Personal Injury Attorney With Experience Suing Corporations
Hiring an experienced Fort Worth personal injury lawyer can not only improve your odds of winning your claim, it can increase the amount of compensation that you eventually receive.
Under the contingency fee system used by most personal injury lawyers, you only pay if you win. Since most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, why not take advantage of that fact and schedule one? Contact the attorneys at Stephens Law Firm, PLLC by calling (817) 420-7000 today.