0

Extended Limitations Period for Personal Injury Claims Based on Criminal Sexual Conduct

Attorneys can generally, almost instinctively, name the applicable statute of limitations for a particular cause of action. Under Texas law, however, the statute of limitations applicable to a particular cause of action may vary based on the facts and circumstances underlying the cause of action. These exceptions to the statute of limitations may come as a surprise, even to experienced attorneys.

Ordinarily, a person must bring suit for personal injury on or before the two-year anniversary of the day the cause of action accrues. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.003(a). A cause of action based on personal injury accrues when events have occurred that allow a person to seek a judicial remedy. Robinson v. Weaver, 550 S.W.2d 18, 19 (Tex. 1977). For example, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress accrues when the wrongful act is committed that causes the claimant to suffer emotional distress. Long v. Houston Northwest Medical Center, Inc., 1991 Tex. App. Houston 1991 WL 19837 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. Feb. 14, 1991). Predictably, certain principles, such as the discovery rule, work to limit this general rule.

An important caveat to the two-year statute of limitations applies to certain personal injury claims. A five- year, not two-year, limitations period applies when the plaintiff’s claim is predicated on conduct that also constitutes violation of a specifically enumerated criminal statute, including sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse of a young child. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.0045(a). Further, when the plaintiff is a minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations is tolled until the child’s eighteenth birthday, meaning that a plaintiff has until his or her twenty-third birthday to file suit. See Doe v. Catholic Diocese of El Paso, 362 S.W.3d 707, 717 (Tex. App. El Paso 2011). Ostensibly, the statute only encompasses claims based on personal injury resulting directly from conduct that violates one of the enumerated criminal statutes. Texas courts have applied the statute liberally, however. Not only does the five-year limitations period apply to tort claims based directly on a defendant’s violation of one of the enumerated criminal statutes (e.g., battery), but also to causes of action against other defendants whose negligence, for example, may have contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. See Id.

0

The Truth About the Family Member Exclusion in Texas Automobile Policies

At one time most Texas automobile liability insurance policies included a so-called family member exclusion which foreclosed liability coverage for any claim made by a family member against a family member. This exclusion was included in these policies based upon the insurance industry’s argument that providing coverage for claims by family members against family members would encourage fraud and collusion. In reality, excluded coverage for that class of individuals most likely to be injured, other than yourself, in an automobile collision other family members. It was in this backdrop that the Texas Supreme Court, in 1993, took up the issue of the family member exclusion in the case of National County Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Johnson, 879 S.W.2d 1 (Tex. 1993).

In Johnson, a policy holder’s truck collided with another automobile. His wife, a passenger in the truck, was injured and subsequently brought suit against him for negligence. Id. The policy-holder’s insurer, however, denied his request for a defense, stating that “Endorsement 575,” a family member exclusion clause, precluded coverage for a liability claim brought by a family member such as his wife. Id. The policy-holder filed a declaratory judgment action to determine his rights under the policy, while the insurer counterclaimed, asking the court to determine whether Endorsement 575 was valid under Texas law. Id.

On appeal of an adverse judgment in the trial court against the insurer, the Texas Supreme Court held that to the extent the family member exclusion purported to deny a family member’s claim within the minimum liability insurance limits required by Texas law, such exclusion was invalid:

  • Here, the Board’s approval of the family member exclusion results in a situation in which a claimant for damages resulting from an automobile accident is not allowed to recover damages under an automobile liability insurance policy that the legislature statutorily requires to protect such claimants from losses. The exclusion prevents a specific class of innocent victims, those persons related to and living with the negligent driver, from receiving financial protection under an insurance policy. Such a result is clearly contrary to the express legislative mandate. The Board’s action in approving a family member exclusion providing for such scenarios is inconsistent with the statutory purpose of the Act, and thus their approval of the exclusion is ineffective.

Id. at 3.

Hence, in Texas a family member may make a claim against a relative’s motor vehicle liability insurance for injuries received in a motor vehicle accident caused by that relatives negligence up to the minimum liability limited provided under Texas law currently $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. Despite this fact, even today insurers will sometimes purport to deny claims in their entirety under the family law exclusion. So arm yourself with the truth, and be aware that even if your automobile accident injuries were caused by the negligence of a family member, 30/60/25 coverage is still available to you as a matter of law.

________________________________________

¹This basic coverage is referred to as 30/60/25 coverage.