Can you recover compensation for your damages after an accident if you were partly at fault? Traditionally, the answer was no. Courts would not allow injured people to recover a dime in compensation if they had contributed to the cause of their accident in any way. This legal approach led to many results that the public felt were shockingly unfair. As a result, many states eventually began to change their laws.
Texas now follows a legal doctrine known as modified comparative negligence. In this post, we will briefly explain how the system works. First, we have to explain a little about negligence.
Negligence is the legal theory underpinning most personal injury cases, including those involving motor vehicle accidents. The theory holds that if a person is injured due to the negligence of another party, the negligent party must compensate them for their damages.
For the injured to be successful in these cases, they must prove five elements:
- Duty: The defendant had a duty of care to the injured party. For instance, all drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road, so as to prevent harming them.
- Breach: The defendant failed to exercise due care. For instance, a driver who is looking at a smartphone instead of at the road has breached a duty of care.
- Actual cause: The defendant’s breach of duty caused the accident that injured the plaintiff. For instance, a driver’s carelessness was the cause of an accident at a stoplight.
- Proximate cause: It was foreseeable that the defendant’s negligence would hurt another driver, such as the plaintiff.
- Damages: The plaintiff suffered losses as a result of the accident. For instance, they have medical expenses, lost wages, pain and other damages.
All five of these elements are important in any case alleging negligence. They can be especially tricky in a comparative negligence case.
Who was at fault?
In many cases, it’s clear who was at fault for an accident. For instance, if the plaintiff was stopped at a stoplight when the defendant failed to hit the brakes behind them and crashed into the back of their car, it’s reasonably clear the defendant’s breach of duty was the actual cause of the accident. It was foreseeable that failing to look ahead and hit the brakes would result in injury to another driver such as the plaintiff. If the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the accident, the defendant can be held liable.
In other cases, the answers are more murky. What if both drivers breached their duty of care and contributed to the accident? For instance, what if one driver had failed to turn on their headlights one dark night before another driver collided with them? What if this failure to use headlights contributed to the accident?
Texas courts handle these cases by hearing the evidence and then apportioning a percentage of fault to each party. So long as the plaintiff holds less than 50% of the fault, they can collect compensation from the defendant. However, their compensation is reduced in proportion to their percentage of fault.
If the court decides the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault, then the plaintiff cannot recover compensation, but if the court determines the plaintiff was 25% at fault and the defendant was 75%, the plaintiff can recover. However, their compensation will be reduced by 25%. If they suffered $100,000 in damages, they can collect only $75,000 in damages.
Sorting out the options
Comparative negligence law allows many injured people to recover compensation to help them and their families cope with the difficult aftermath of an injury. But applying the principle to the facts of any once accident can be difficult, especially in cases involving multi-vehicle collisions or other complicating factors. The injured and their families can speak to a skilled personal injury attorney about their options for recovering compensation.