Sometimes, a single action causes a car crash. For example, if a distracted driver rear-ends your vehicle while you’re fully stopped at a red light, the causes of the crash may seem straightforward — at least at first.
However, many wrecks are more complicated and involve multiple at-fault parties. You may even have made a minor mistake that contributed to the “accident.”
When numerous people or other entities (like companies) contribute to your car accident, it can be difficult to sort out who is financially responsible and how much each of them owes you for your injuries. In this article, Crosley Law outlines Texas’ approach to contributory negligence and explain how you can fight back against victim-blaming.
How Does Texas Define Negligence or Fault in Personal Injury Cases?
Most Texas car and truck crashes involve negligence. While the average person may define “negligence” as being careless or sloppy, the law has a more precise definition. Under Texas law, someone is “at fault” or “negligent” if they:
- Owed you a duty of care, such as an obligation to follow Texas’ rules of the road and look out for potential hazards;
- Violated this duty of care and caused your injuries; and
- You suffered damages, such as lost income, pain and suffering, and medical bills
If you cannot prove one of these elements, you do not have a negligence claim.
For example, suppose a drunk driver rolls through a stop sign. Thankfully, you avoid the collision by making a quick lane change. While your heart is racing and you call 911 to report the dangerous driver, you and your vehicle are unharmed.
In this case, while the drunk driver violated a duty of care, you probably don’t have a negligence claim against them because you did not suffer injuries or damages.
Unfortunately, many collisions do result in serious, life-changing injuries. In these cases, the victim needs to identify exactly who was to blame. That’s because Texas has a fault-based system for personal injury claims. When someone negligently or intentionally causes your injuries, you’ll file a claim with their insurance company rather than your own.
Contributory Negligence and Comparative Fault: Different Approaches to Blame in a Personal Injury Claim
It’s not uncommon for multiple people to contribute to an accident. For example, suppose you’re approaching an intersection. You have the right of way, and you cruise into the intersection, going 5 mph over the speed limit. Suddenly, another driver blasts through a stop sign, going 20 mph over the speed limit. During the impact, your seatbelt fails, causing serious injuries.
In this case, the bulk of the blame falls on the reckless driver who ignored the stop sign. But, your speeding may have also played a role, and so did that defective seatbelt. Your right to compensation may depend on which state’s law apply.
Pure Contributory Negligence:
In some states, the courts apply a rule called “pure contributory negligence.” Under this law, you cannot recover damages if you caused even 1% of the crash. Four states and the District of Columbia apply this very strict rule. Thankfully, Texas is not one of them.
Most states recognize that pure contributory negligence is an unfair and impractical standard. So, these states have taken an approach that divides the blame for an accident or injury and assigns “proportionate responsibility.” Sometimes called “comparative fault,” or “comparative negligence,” these state laws reduce a victim’s compensation by their degree of fault.
To understand comparative fault, let’s return to the example above, where a drunk driver sped past a stop sign. After the car accident, your lawyers investigate the crash to determine the extent of each party’s liability. Your legal team realizes that the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was well beyond the legal limit and that the impact to your vehicle is consistent with a high-speed collision. Your lawyer also hires expert witnesses, who report that the seatbelt was defectively designed and unlatched during the force of the crash.
Let’s imagine that a court or jury determines that the driver who sped through a stop sign was 60% to blame for your injuries, your car’s manufacturer was 35% at fault due to the defective seatbelt, and your speeding was only 5% to blame for the crash and your injuries.
In a comparative fault state, the court would reduce your damages by 5%, which is your proportion of fault. If you had $200,000 in lost income, medical bills, and other damages, you would receive $190,000 ($200,000 x 0.95 = 190,000).
Texas Is a Modified Comparative Negligence Law State With a 51% Bar
While Texas is a comparative fault state, our laws add another level of complexity to the rule. We use a modified system of comparative negligence that limits an at-fault driver’s ability to recover damages. Called the 51% bar, this rule says you cannot receive compensation if you were 51% or more to blame for the crash. In other words, if you are more than 50% at fault, you lose and would get nothing.
This 51% bar might sound unfavorable to plaintiffs, but at least it eliminates counter-lawsuits by the at-fault party, who might otherwise argue that driving 5 mph over the speed limit makes you liable for a portion of their injuries.
Fight Back Against Victim-Blaming With Compelling Evidence
Insurance companies, in an attempt to reduce victims’ compensation, will often unfairly blame the injured party for causing a crash. Sometimes, there’s an inaccuracy in the police report that leads to victim-blaming. Other times, you’re caught in a “he said, she said” battle with the negligent driver. In either situation, you’ll need compelling evidence and help from a skilled lawyer to clarify the facts of your case.
At Crosley Law, we have a long history of using cutting-edge technology and strategies to fight for our clients. We carefully study the facts surrounding our clients’ claims, reviewing police reports, interviewing witnesses, preserving electronic data from vehicles and surveillance footage, and consulting with crash reconstruction experts.
For example, commercial vehicles like large trucks and buses often contain sophisticated systems that track the driver’s every move. These systems may include sensors that identify exactly when a driver hits the brakes or veers out of a lane as well as the driver’s speed and even their in-car behaviors. Records from these systems can help you pinpoint the exact causes of your crash and hold the correct parties responsible.
However, if you don’t act quickly, it’s easy to lose some of this evidence. Businesses don’t retain their security camera footage, vehicle black box data, and cell phone data forever. That’s why our personal injury attorneys act quickly to identify these essential records and send letters that preserve them for our clients’ claims.
PIP Insurance: No-Fault Insurance Coverage in Texas
In addition to liability coverage, most drivers in Texas have at least some personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. (You should have PIP coverage unless you declined it in writing.) Unlike your traditional liability policy, PIP is a type of no-fault coverage.
Regardless of who caused your crash, a PIP policy will help pay for your and your passenger’s losses, including:
- Medical bills, including hospital, nursing, and rehabilitation services
- Ambulance and EMS expenses
- Medical equipment you need, like crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetics
- Lost income
- Replacement services, such as the cost of housekeeping if you can no longer perform these duties
- Funeral and burial expenses
Many people are surprised to discover that they have this coverage, which covers both you and any family members who live with you.
You can file a PIP claim in addition to other personal injury claims that you might have against at-fault parties. Filing a PIP claim can help you get the compensation you deserve. Notably, the insurance companies cannot reduce or offset your liability payments by the amount you receive in PIP benefits.
“You can file a PIP claim in addition to other personal injury claims that you might have against at-fault parties. Filing a PIP claim can help you get the compensation you deserve. Notably, the insurance companies cannot reduce or offset your liability payments by the amount you receive in PIP benefits.”
For example, suppose you have $40,000 in damages. The negligent driver has a minimum policy that pays out $30,000 per person, and you have $10,000 in PIP coverage. You could demand the at-fault driver’s policy limits and then file a claim with your PIP insurer for the remainder — and the at-fault driver can’t demand a discount because you received benefits from PIP coverage.
Crosley Law: Standing Up for Texas Crash Victims
At Crosley Law, we aggressively fight for our clients and do what’s right. We know that insurance companies try to use Texas’ comparative fault laws to reduce or eliminate victims’ compensation, so we fight back with the facts. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in a car crash or commercial vehicle wreck, contact our law firm today.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.