Civil Law in Texas: The Basics

Civil cases in Texas involve the plaintiff, or party bringing the case, and the defendant, or party accused of causing an injury.  Civil lawsuits usually result in some form of restitution, or financial compensation.

Civil cases take two different forms: uncontested, which means both parties agree on the desired outcome but are using the court system to make the agreement legally binding, and contested, which means the parties involved in the case do not agree on what the outcome of the case should be.

Civil Law Process in Texas

Flow chart depicting Texas's civil law process


The civil law process begins when a plaintiff files a petition with the court, which asks the court to grant a certain outcome in a civil suit.  Once the petition is filed, the plaintiff is required to arrange for the defendant to be provided legal notice that the petition has been filed.  The defendant is then allowed to respond to the petition by filing a request or special appearance (if the defendant has a jurisdictional challenge to the petition), filing an answer (if the defendant wishes to demonstrate that he is not defying the court’s authority), or filing a counter-petition (if the defendant has his own claims against the petitioner).  Next, the civil case enters the discovery period, during which legal counsel for both parties may request information relevant to the case that the other party has compiled.

Many civil cases end during the pre-trial stage due to a petition for nonsuit being filed by the plaintiff, settlement agreements between the parties involved, or summary judgments issued by judges.


If the case is uncontested, chances are the trial stage of the civil law process will be fairly short.  If, however, the case is contested, the trial stage of the civil law process will more closely resemble a trial and will include the introduction and cross-examination of evidence.


Following the trial, the judge will enter a judgment as to whether the defendant is liable and, if so, what restitution is required, along with how long the defendant has to comply with the court order.  If one of the parties disagrees with the judgment, the case may be appealed to a court of appeals for review.

Tort Reform in Texas

“. . . Texas was known as one of the nation’s “judicial hellholes.”  Equal enforcement of the state’s [civil] laws was simply not a certainty upon which a citizen could rely.” – Nixon & Texas Public Policy Foundation (2013)

In 2003, the Texas government took action to provide comprehensive reform of the state’s civil law system:

  • Governor Rick Perry declared medical malpractice reform an emergency legislation item; shortly thereafter, HB4 was passed and signed into law.  HB4 was an omnibus tort reform bill that contained many procedural, substantive, evidentiary, medical malpractice, and general civil law reforms found in other states and in the federal court system.
  • In 2003, the Texas legislature passed Texas Constitutional Amendment Proposition 12, which would give HB4 full effect and overturn a Texas Supreme Court decision against caps on non-economic damages in civil suits.  This amendment was approved by a majority of voters.

Several studies of the Texas civil law system have found that these reforms have had a positive impact on reducing the volume of civil lawsuits, have increased access to healthcare in the state due to an increase in the number of licensed physicians practicing in the state resulting from decreasing malpractice premiums, and has had a positive impact on the state’s economy.

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