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How Does Texas Personal Injury Law Deal With Contributory Negligence?

Written by Tom Crosley
Nov 23, 2021 Catastrophic Personal Injury, Drunk Driving Accidents, Personal Injury, Vehicle Wrecks
  1. 1. Texas Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State
  2. 2. Simple Examples of How Contributory and Comparative Negligence Can Affect Compensation
  3. 3. Fight Back Against Victim-Blaming With Compelling Evidence
  4. 4. PIP Insurance: No-Fault Insurance Coverage in Texas
  5. 5. Crosley Law: Standing Up for Texas Crash Victims

How Does Texas Personal Injury Law Deal With Contributory Negligence?

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.

Sometimes, a single action causes a car crash. 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.

Texas Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State

The short answer to the question posed by the title of this blog—how Texas deals with contributory negligence—is that it doesn’t. In Texas, contributory negligence is not the standard. A modified version of comparative negligence is used instead.

While the terms “contributory negligence” and “comparative negligence” might sound similar or even interchangeable to you, they have very specific legal definitions—and can affect whether you can get any compensation after an accident with multiple partially responsible parties.

Let’s take a closer look at what all these terms really mean.

What Is Negligence?

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
  • You suffered damages, such as lost income, pain and suffering, and medical bills

If you cannot prove one or more 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, and you and your vehicle are unharmed. While the drunk driver violated a duty of care, you don’t have a negligence claim because you did not suffer injuries or damages.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Pure contributory negligence is an extremely strict standard. Under this standard, anyone who contributes to an accident—even in a very minor way—is completely shut out from any chance at compensation. That means even if a jury only finds you 5 or 10 percent responsible, you can’t recover anything.

Fortunately, most states (including Texas) recognize that this is an unfair and impractical standard, so it isn’t used here.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence allows injured individuals to recover a portion of their medical bills, lost wages, and other damages even if their own negligence was partially a factor. The amount of compensation you can recover will be your damages reduced by whatever percentage of fault you’re determined to share. For example, if you claim $100,000 in damages and are found to be 10% at fault, you can only recover $90,000 in compensation.

Texas Negligence Laws Set a 51% Bar For Comparative Negligence

While Texas is a comparative fault state, our laws add another level of complexity to the rule. We use a modified comparative fault rule 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.

To better understand these differences, let’s look at a specific example.

Simple Examples of How Contributory and Comparative Negligence Can Affect Compensation

Example 1: A Drunk Driver and a Defective Product Contribute to Your Wreck

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, a drunk 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. Let’s say a court decides the fault as follows:

  • The other driver is 60% responsible due to reckless behavior
  • Your car’s manufacturer is 35% responsible due to the defective seatbelt
  • You are 5% responsible for speeding

Your right to compensation may depend on which state’s law apply.

  • Under contributory negligence, you cannot recover anything since you were partially to blame.
  • Under comparative negligence (modified or otherwise), the compensation you can recover will be reduced by your percentage of fault. So, in this case, if you had $200,000 worth of damages, you could get $190,000 in compensation (95% of $200,000).

Example 2: Both You and the Other Driver Broke the Rules of the Road

Suppose you have the same situation as above, but without the seatbelt failure. In this case, the two drivers are the only responsible parties. Let’s say that the court finds the drunk driver 90% responsible, while it finds you to be 10% at fault.

Both you and the other driver are injured, and suffer damages of $100,000 each.

  • Under contributory negligence, neither of you can recover anything, because you’re both at least partially responsible.
  • Under pure comparative fault, the drunk driver is liable for $90,000 of your damages ($100,000 minus 10 percent), while you are liable for $10,000 of their damages ($100,000 minus 90 percent).
  • Under Texas’ modified comparative negligence law, you can recover $90,000 in compensation, while the drunk driver cannot recover anything from you due to being more than 50% at fault.

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’ personal injury 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, making it much more difficult to prove negligence. Businesses don’t keep 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.

For example, we represented a mother after her child, Amanda, died in a truck accident. At the scene of the crash, the trucker claimed that Amanda had run a red light. However, the college student had a history of being a very responsible driver, and this seemed out of character.

Our personal injury lawyers went to work right away, preserving the semi-truck’s dashcams, logbooks, and other evidence. We uncovered shocking footage of the truck—not Amanda—running a red light and violently striking her vehicle. To make matters worse, the truck driver didn’t bother to hit the brakes until after the collision.

We negotiated a $9 million settlement for Amanda’s family.

RELATED: A Grieving Mother Clears Her Daughter’s Name: Amanda and Jane’s Story

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.

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.

You can schedule your free consultation and case evaluation by calling us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or filling out our quick online contact form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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