The term “negligence” is a legal term for carelessness or recklessness. When someone is negligent and causes an accident that leads to injuries or death, they are legally responsible for those damages. However, negligence in a car accident often involves more than one driver. In fact, there are many situations where more than one person is at fault for a car or truck accident, and one of the responsible parties might be you—the plaintiff who is asserting a legal claim against another driver. What happens when you are partially at fault for an accident? In Texas, the answer depends on the state's comparative negligence laws.
Jason English Law may be able to provide specific legal guidance for your case. Learn more by calling (512) 454-7548.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
When more than one person is at fault for an accident, a jury or judge will assign each person who is partially to blame a percentage of fault. The total must be 100%. Texas law uses a modified comparative negligence standard. That means that a plaintiff's portion of the responsibility will reduce the amount of money damages that they can be awarded in a lawsuit. In some situations where the plaintiff is found at or over 50% responsible, their claim can be completely barred altogether.
Allocation of Blame
Two cars are approaching an intersection. Only one of them has a stop sign. The driver without a stop sign is exceeding the speed limit. The driver who should have stopped runs their stop sign and hits the speeding car entering the intersection from their left.
The driver who ran the stop sign was likely more at fault, so the jury assigns this driver 75% of the blame. Then, they allocate the other 25% to the first driver because they were speeding. That means that the first driver's total damages will be reduced by the amount of fault assigned to them. If there is $10,000 in damages, for example, then they will only be able to receive $7,500 from the other driver (75% of $10,000).
What Is the 50% Rule of Comparative Negligence?
The 50% rule refers to the percentage of fault for an accident assigned to the plaintiff in a personal injury case. States will use one of two versions of this rule:
- A plaintiff cannot be 50% or more at fault for the accident to recover or
- A plaintiff cannot recover damages if they are found 51% at fault
The rules are very similar, but they have an important difference. In one version, a plaintiff can still be at least 50% at fault and still recover their damages. However, the other version essentially requires a plaintiff to be 49% or less at fault to recover. Texas law specifically states that the defendant's fault must be more than 50%, so Texas follows the 49% rule.
Other Types of Comparative Fault
The majority of states in the United States use a modified comparative negligence rule. However, in some states, plaintiffs can still assert a claim even if most of the fault should be attributed to them. In pure comparative negligence states, for instance, a driver can be 99% at fault and still get compensated for the 1% of the damage that was not their fault.
Other states use a contributory negligence system. Under this type of system, a plaintiff cannot recover any amount of damages if they were at all responsible for any negligence in a car accident. This is a strict rule that very few states follow.
How Are Multi-Car Accidents Treated in Texas?
Regardless of how many people are involved in the accident, they should all be assigned a percentage of fault. Then, that driver is only responsible for paying damages up to their assigned percentage. An unfortunately common example involves a driver who is rear-ended and pushed into an intersection. Another car then hits the first vehicle after they are forced into the intersection. A jury could assign fault as follows:
- 0% to the driver who was rear-ended
- 80% to the driver that rear-ended the first car
- 20% to the driver that hit the car that was rear-ended in the intersection
The driver that rear-ended the other vehicle would then be responsible for 80% of the damages, and the second driver who hit the car in the intersection would have to pay the rest of the losses. Cases involving negligence in a car accident can be very complicated, so you may wish to consult Jason English Law if you have been involved in a multi-vehicle accident.
Pursuant to Section 33.013 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, there may be joint and several liability for multi-car accidents in some circumstances. That means plaintiffs could get the full amount of their damages from whomever they wanted, as long as they have 50% or more of the fault for the accident. However, if a defendant pays more than the percentage of fault they were assigned, they might be able to recover those funds from the other defendants.
Comparative Negligence and PIP Insurance
Texas is one of just a few states that offers personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. PIP coverage is optional in Texas, but it can be a helpful way to get immediate payment for injuries after a car accident. In fact, the Texas Department of Insurance indicates that insurance companies automatically include $2,500 in PIP coverage as part of every insurance policy, but drivers can opt to remove this type of coverage by informing the company in writing that they do not want it.
PIP insurance does not take into account who is responsible for the accident before it issues payment under the policy. Instead, concepts of comparative negligence only apply when a car accident victim is asserting a claim against another driver (and usually their insurance company).
Get Help with Car Accident Claims in Texas
If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, you may want to speak with a Texas car accident attorney about the situation. Do not let potential partial fault keep you from asserting a claim. You may be able to learn more about your options from Jason English Law.