How to File a Civil Lawsuit in Texas
Thank you for visiting lawsuitforms.org! In this article, we will go over the basic steps of how to file a civil lawsuit in Texas District or County Courts (Texas’ general trial courts) without an attorney. As you will see, the basics of filing a lawsuit in Texas are not nearly as complicated as they first seem. Before reading further, it may be helpful to review our ‘Legal Glossary for Non-Attorneys’. If you do decide to move forward with your lawsuit, we highly recommend you purchase our Texas Original Civil Petition, form packet which includes more detailed instructions, form templates, and samples.
Drafting the Petition
As with most other states, filing a civil petition is the first step to beginning a lawsuit in Texas (although most other states call the document initiating a lawsuit a ‘complaint’ instead of a ‘petition’). This is the document in which you lay out the allegations against the defendant and allege how you have been harmed. Keep in mind that you do not need to try and prove your allegations in the petition. You are only alleging what happened. Of course, to ultimately prevail at trial, you will definitely need to offer evidence that supports the claims you initially make in your petition.
However, simply alleging that you have been harmed is not quite enough. You must allege a type of harm that Texas specifically recognizes as a recoverable claim for relief. For example, if you trip on the sidewalk you cannot necessarily sue the city for your damages. The plaintiff will need to allege that the city (or someone else) was negligent in some manner. Perhaps the sidewalk was in a poor state of disrepair. In that case, they can likely allege that the city had a duty to keep the sidewalks in good condition, they failed to perform that duty, and as a direct result of that failure, the plaintiff was injured. Each specific aspect of a claim for relief is known as an ‘element’ of a claim. If a Plaintiff can prove each element of their claim, they should win their case. Similarly, if a plaintiff has been physically attacked by someone, they can probably bring a civil lawsuit for battery if they can allege that the person physically contacted them and they suffered harm as a result of that physical contact.
The elements used above are general examples only! A plaintiff needs to research the individual elements of any and all claims they wish to bring against a defendant and make sure they properly allege facts that, if proven, will satisfy each element of their claim (the best place to research elements of specific claims is your local law library).
Some examples of common claims for relief in Texas are:
- Breach of Contract
- Unpaid Wages
- Wrongful Termination
- Race/Sex Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Defamation (slander/libel)
Once the elements of a claim are known, they need to be written up in a civil petition in the proper format. If your petition is not formatted correctly, it may be rejected by the court clerk!
Most petitions in Texas have the following format:
- Heading with basic information about the case.
- ‘Discovery Level’ and ‘Request for Disclosures.’
- Description of the parties and a statement of jurisdiction.
- ‘Factual Allegations’, wherein the plaintiff alleges all the facts that constitute the elements of their claim.
- ‘Claims for Relief’ where the plaintiff states how the allegations, if proven, will constitute a legally cognizable claim (such as negligence, or battery).
- ‘Prayer for Relief’, where the plaintiff asks the court to award a specific remedy, such as economic or non-economic damages.
Filing the Petition and Serving the Citation
Once the petition has been drafted, the plaintiff will need to file it at the appropriate courthouse and pay the applicable filing fee. If a plaintiff has limited financial means, they may be able to qualify for a fee waiver/deferral and can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver application. Once the petition has been filed, it will need to be served on the defendant.
In Texas, when you file your petition, the court clerk should be able to assist you in service of the citation and petition. The citation is the official legal notice (called a ‘summons’ in most other states) that requires the defendant to appear and answer the charges in the petition. Without an accompanying citation, a petition has no legal authority that requires a defendant to respond. The clerk should be able to instruct you on how to have the sheriff or a private process server serve the citation and petition on the defendant. After they serve the documents on the defendant, the sheriff or professional process server should file a certificate of service with the courthouse that proves the defendant was actually served.
Once served, the defendant will have a certain amount of time to respond by filing an ‘Answer’ to the petition. After an answer has been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other. Depending on the discovery level of each lawsuit, the mandatory disclosures may satisfy the needs of both parties. However, if additional information is needed, the parties can send a ‘Request for Production of Documents’ to each other, asking for specific documents that are relevant to the case.
This is just a brief outline of how to file a civil lawsuit in Texas. Of course, the details of any specific case will be slightly more complicated, but as you can see, the basic nuts and bolts of how to file a Texas petition are well within the grasp of the average person. Anyone can learn how to file a lawsuit without an attorney. Our Texas Civil Petition form packet includes more detailed instructions, as well as templates and samples that are already formatted for Texas courts. Follow the link above or click the 'Buy Now' button at the top of this page to purchase the form packet. Thank you for reading!
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