Texas law allows a defendant in a lawsuit to designate another person or entity as the responsible party in a dispute, this is known as a responsible third party. Specifically, the law defines a responsible third party as “any person who is alleged to have caused or contributed to causing in any way the harm for which recovery of damages is sought.” However, the law also lays out rules and deadlines for designating someone or something as a responsible third party.
The rules say that if a defendant is going to designate a responsible third party who allegedly caused the harm by committing a criminal act they must name that person or designate a “John Doe” and describe what they know about the alleged criminal within 60 days of the defendant’s answer to the suit.
Despite the rules defendants often try to designate a responsible third party late in a case as a way to finger point and avoid responsibility. The Supreme Court of Texas specifically dealt with the issue of the criminal responsible third-party designation just a few weeks ago in In re Gonzales, No. 20-0506, 64 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 427, 2021 WL 833058 (Tex. Mar. 5, 2021) (orig. proceeding).
The Supreme Court held that a trial court abused its discretion by permitting a defendant to designate an unknown person as a criminal responsible third party because the defendant missed the 60-day deadline in the rules. The statute governing the designation of an unknown person as a responsible third party requires that a defendant seeking to do so must file an answer with the court alleging the unknown person’s commission of a criminal act that caused the loss or injury at issue—and that this filing be done within 60 days of the defendant’s original answer. The Court held that this rule provides the only way to designate an unknown person as a criminal responsible third party. Because the defendant failed to file the required pleading within the 60-day period, the trial court abused its discretion by permitting the designation and the Supreme Court overruled the trial court’s decision.
The Supreme Court stressed that rules governing the designation of responsible third parties in Texas contain strict requirements and explicit time limitations and make it clear that Texas courts will enforce these requirements.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by a business or person, whether or not criminal conduct was involved, call the law firm of Abraham Watkins today. It is imperative that you find a law firm to manage your claim as soon as possible following an injury or death of a family member.
The law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner is the oldest personal injury firm in Texas, and our attorneys are standing by to assist with your claim. Call us today at 713-396-3964 or 1-800-594-4884 for your free consultation.