After a car accident, it can seem easy to assign blame, particularly when the other driver did something especially dangerous, such as speeding or failing to signal. However, when it comes to car accident claims, deciding fault is not as cut and dried as it might seem at first.
In Texas, a legal doctrine called comparative fault can cost victims a serious chunk of their monetary award even if their lawsuit is successful, all because the other side was crafty enough to pin a portion of the blame on them.
If you have been injured in a car accident in Texas, the portion of fault you share can have an enormous impact on your monetary recovery. You need an experienced personal injury attorney who knows the tricks insurance companies use to unfairly shift blame to the victim. At Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C., we have a thorough understanding of comparative fault and how to minimize the fault assigned to our clients to maximize their awards.
Here is some background information to help you familiarize yourself with how comparative fault works and how it may apply to your case.
The Basics of Comparative Fault
In the most basic sense, comparative fault means that a judgment in any car accident case will assign a certain percentage of fault to each driver according to how carelessly they acted. The more at-fault a driver is, the less money they will be able to recover in damages. Texas is among the many states that apply comparative fault in some form. A few other states still use a much stricter law called contributory negligence.
If one driver files an injury claim, each side may try to pin as much blame on the other side as possible. The plaintiff wants to minimize their share of fault and maximize the defendant’s to secure as much money as possible. Likewise, the defendant wants to minimize their share of fault and maximize the plaintiff’s to pay out as little money as possible. In the end, if the plaintiff wins, their monetary reward will be reduced by whatever percentage – if any – they are found to be at fault.
Modified Comparative Fault: The 51 Percent Rule
The type of comparative fault applied in Texas is called “modified” comparative fault, meaning that there are additional rules beyond the basics of comparative fault. In Texas, the additional rule courts apply is called the 51 percent rule. This rule says that no party can be awarded monetary damages in any kind of judgment if they are found to be 51 percent or more at fault.
The 51 percent rule in Texas means that the sliding scale of damages you can actually recover runs from 100 percent of what you are awarded if you are found to be 0 percent at fault to 50 percent of what you are awarded if you are found to be 50 percent at fault. Once you hit 51 percent fault, you will not be able to win any money at all.
Factors in Determining Fault
Now you know how the assignment of fault affects your monetary award, but how does the legal system come up with those percentages in the first place? The numbers are based on actions each driver took leading up to the accident which contributed to it happening. Each side will present its own story of what happened, accusing the other side of negligent behavior behind the wheel, such as:
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Driving the wrong way
- Driving too fast on wet or icy roads
- Texting while driving
- Taking unsafe turns
- Failing to signal
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
These are just a few examples of dangerous driving behaviors that could contribute to accidents, and which either side may accuse the other of doing. At trial, a jury will determine fault based on what they believe each driver did. This determination will be based on the evidence presented, such as:
- The police report
- Witness testimony
- Accident reconstruction
- Cell phone records
- Diagrams of the accident
- Pictures from the scene of the accident
- Records of weather and road conditions at the time of the accident
It is important to remember that your own account of the accident can also be used as evidence. You must keep your story straight and be careful not to say anything that could be misconstrued as accepting a larger part of the blame than you actually share. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you to line up your evidence effectively to minimize your share of the fault.
An Example of Comparative Fault in Texas
Let’s consider an example to illustrate how comparative fault could apply in a real case. This example is simplified and does not necessarily reflect a realistic determination of fault.
Mary is driving from her job in downtown Houston to her home in the suburbs at the end of the day. The road is still slick from yesterday’s rain, but she’s driven this route hundreds of times before and nonetheless decides to drive 5 mph over the speed limit. Mary is driving in the left lane. John suddenly cuts across and tries to make a left turn directly from the right lane beside her into a parking lot. Mary is unable to stop, and the two cars collide.
Mary files a personal injury claim. At trial, the jury decides that John was 80 percent at fault because turning in front of another car is obviously dangerous. However, they also hold that Mary was 20 percent at fault, because if she were not driving too fast on a slick road, she might have been able to stop. Mary’s $100,000 monetary reward is reduced by 20 percent, leaving her with $80,000.
Contact a Houston Car Accident Lawyer Today
If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident in Texas, you need a lawyer who understands how comparative fault works in Texas. The Houston car accident lawyers of Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C. have years of experience helping personal injury victims like you to do just that. For more information on how we can help, call us or contact us online now for a free consultation.