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Certificates of Merit in Texas Explained

certificates of merit explained
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In Texas, a “Certificate of Merit” is a legal requirement in certain professional negligence cases, including those involving claims against licensed architects and professional engineers. The purpose of the Certificate of Merit is to deter frivolous lawsuits and ensure that only claims with merit proceed to litigation. Here’s an explanation of how Certificates of Merit work in Texas:

  1. Requirement: Under Texas law, a plaintiff filing a lawsuit alleging professional negligence against licensed architects, professional engineers, or licensed surveyors must file a “Certificate of Merit” along with the initial petition.
  2. Content: The Certificate of Merit must be signed by a qualified expert who practices or teaches in the same area of expertise as the defendant architect, engineer, or surveyor. The expert must certify that, after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case, they believe that the defendant’s actions or omissions breached the applicable standard of care and caused or contributed to the alleged damages.
  3. Purpose: The Certificate of Merit serves multiple purposes:
    • It helps ensure that there is a valid basis for the professional negligence claim before the defendant architect or engineer is subjected to the expense and burden of litigation.
    • It encourages early involvement of expert witnesses, facilitating a more informed evaluation of the case by both parties and potentially promoting settlement negotiations.
    • It acts as a deterrent against frivolous lawsuits by requiring plaintiffs to obtain an expert opinion supporting their claims.
  4. Timing: The Certificate of Merit must be filed within 120 days of the initiation of the lawsuit. Failure to file a timely and sufficient Certificate of Merit can result in dismissal of the case.
  5. Consequences of Non-Compliance: If a plaintiff fails to file a proper Certificate of Merit, the defendant architect, engineer, or surveyor may file a motion to dismiss the case. The court may dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to cure the deficiency and refile the case with a proper Certificate of Merit.
  6. Expert Qualifications: The expert providing the Certificate of Merit must possess the necessary qualifications and expertise to evaluate the defendant’s actions or omissions competently. Typically, this means they should be licensed in the same profession, have relevant experience, and be knowledgeable about the applicable standards of care.

Overall, Certificates of Merit are an important procedural requirement in professional negligence cases in Texas, including those involving architects, engineers, and surveyors. Plaintiffs must obtain expert opinions supporting their claims early in the litigation process, promoting fairness and efficiency in resolving disputes related to professional services.