Like most states, Texas uses a “fault system” to determine which driver involved in a car accident must pay for the medical bills, lost wages, and other damages that were caused. Sounds simple enough, right?
Unfortunately, not all situations are so clean cut. Some accidents are more than one person’s fault if multiple drivers (or other parties, like trucking companies) acted carelessly.
If you’ve been hurt in an auto accident that was mostly someone else’s fault—but you were partially responsible, too—you might be wondering what your rights are. The good news is that you can still recover damages—just not the full amount.
This blog will give you an overview of Texas negligence laws, as well as explain how an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you maximize what you can recover.
How Can Multiple Drivers Be Negligent?
In a lot of car accident cases, figuring out who was at fault is reasonably straightforward. For example, imagine that you’re stopped at a red light. The driver behind you isn’t paying attention as he approaches the intersection and rear-ends you. Clearly, the other driver was responsible.
But other crashes are more complicated. For example, let’s say an accident happened when one driver made a left turn at an intersection without making sure the way was clear, and was hit by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. You could argue that both drivers were careless, and the crash would have been avoided if either one had acted responsibly.
What happens then? It depends on what state the crash took place in. Texas is considered a modified comparative fault state with a 51% bar. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
The Texas Modified Comparative Negligence Law Explained
What Is Negligence?
Personal injury claims are almost always built around the concept of negligence. A person, company, or other party who acts negligently could be held liable to pay for the damages that they cause.
You probably already have a good idea of what negligence means, but in the context of personal injury law it has a precise definition. To be negligent, a person must:
- Have a duty of care to others. Drivers, for example, have a duty to exercise caution while driving.
- Violate that duty of care. In other words, they must act in a way that a reasonable person would find unreasonable, irresponsible, or reckless.
- Cause damages. Because of the negligent act, someone else got hurt.
In our example in the section above, both drivers—the one who was speeding and the one who turned without looking—clearly acted negligently.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
Under comparative negligence, an injured party can recover compensation even in situations where their own negligence contributed to the accident. However, the total amount of compensation a person can recover in their personal injury claim will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
For example, say you suffered $100,000 in damages in a car accident that was 10% your own fault. Your damages would be reduced by 10%, and you’d be able to recover $90,000.
The 51% Bar Rule
In simple terms, the 51% bar rule means that you cannot recover any compensation from a car accident case if the court finds that you were more than 50% responsible. Here are some examples of how that might work out in practice:
- If a court finds you 40% at fault and the other driver 60% at fault, you can recover 60% of your damages.
- If the situation were reversed, and you were 60% responsible, you could not recover anything. However, if the other driver was also injured, they could recover 60% of their damages from you and your insurance company.
- If negligence is shared 50-50, you can recover half of your damages from the other driver, while the other driver can recover half of their damages from you.
What About Other States?
Most states (46 out of 50) have comparative fault laws. However, there are still some key differences:
- 23 states (including Texas and Oklahoma) use the 51% bar rule described above.
- 10 states (including Arkansas) use a 50% bar rule, meaning that you can only recover damages if you are 49% or less responsible. If fault is divided 50-50, neither driver can recover.
- 12 states (including Louisiana) follow pure comparative negligence, meaning there is no upper limit barring your recovery short of 100%. Even if you are 99% at fault for your accident, you can still recover 1% of your damages.
- One state uses a slight/gross negligence system, meaning a person who acted negligently can only recover if their negligence was “slight” in comparison to the gross negligence of any other involved parties.
The remaining four states (plus the District of Columbia) follow an extremely strict rule called contributory negligence. Under this rule, you cannot recover anything if your own negligence contributed to the crash, even if you are only 1% at fault.
How an Attorney Can Help When Negligence is Shared or Unclear
Comparative negligence laws can be very challenging to deal with for injured Texas drivers, for a number of reasons.
One big reason is that the insurance company representing the other side of the personal injury case will look for any evidence that suggests you were at least partially responsible for the accident. The insurance adjuster’s goal is to save money for the insurance company, and if they can pin even a portion of the blame on you, they won’t have to pay out as much.
The other big problem is that there is often no objective standard to apportion fault for a car crash when multiple people are negligent.
Let’s go back to our earlier example. One driver (let’s call him Bob) made an ill-advised left turn and was hit by a driver who was speeding (Ted). A court might find that Bob was 70% responsible and Ted was 30% responsible.
But why those specific percentages? Why not 60-40, or 75-25? What if Ted was only traveling 5 miles per hour over the speed limit? What if he was traveling 30 miles per hour over the speed limit? Different insurance companies and different juries could draw very difficult conclusions based on the evidence you obtain and how effectively you present it.
That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side when fault is shared or unclear. Your lawyer can help you preserve crucial evidence to prove negligence in your case, argue for higher damage amounts, and present your case in the best possible way to maximize your recovery.
Contact Our Tyler and Longview Car Accident Lawyers Today
At Roberts & Roberts, our Texas partial-fault accident attorneys have extensive experience helping injured victims get the compensation they deserve in complex personal injury cases. We can help you assemble the evidence you need, including testimony from accident reconstruction experts and others, to help you recover the maximum compensation you are entitled to.
Contact us at 903-251-2873 or fill out our online contact form for a free review of the facts of your case. We represent clients injured by distracted drivers in Tyler, Longview and surrounding communities.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Justin is an attorney at Roberts & Roberts and focuses his practice on mass tort litigation, where he specializes in helping individuals who are harmed by recalled or unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices. He has earned recognition as a “Top 40 Under 40” Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers. Prior to joining Roberts & Roberts, Justin served as an attorney in all three branches of Texas’s state government, including as a Briefing Attorney on the Texas Supreme Court. He also represented electric and natural gas utilities in complex regulatory proceedings before the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Railroad Commission of Texas. Justin is a published author in the St. Mary’s Law Journal.