In Texas, driver error causes about 98 percent of car crashes. Generally, the fault lies entirely with one driver. However, in freeway and non-motorist accidents, both drivers could be at fault. If you were determined partially at fault for a car accident, you could still file a car accident claim.
The comparative fault rule, which is the legal process of apportioning responsibility between multiple parties, applies typically in such situations. Due to the way this law works, even if you were partially at fault for a car accident, a Houston personal injury lawyer may still be able to obtain substantial compensation.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and financial losses, such as pain and suffering.
Kinds of Driver Errors
Speeding and drunk driving, two driver errors that accelerated during the pandemic, exemplify Houston’s kinds of driver errors.
Excessive speed is an operational error. Others include running a red light, failing to maintain a proper lookout, and changing lanes unsafely. The negligence per se doctrine settles multiple liability questions. Tortfeasors could be responsible for damages if they violate a safety law, like the speed limit law.
But this doctrine doesn’t apply in many operational error cases. For example, emergency responders often don’t issue citations in these situations since they usually view car wrecks as civil matters. Moreover, the judge could still allow the insurance company to use the comparative fault defense.
Drunk driving is a behavioral error. Others include distracted driving, drugged driving, and drowsy driving. Usually, the negligence per se rule is unavailable in such cases. It’s generally not illegal to drive while tired or distracted. So, a Houston car accident lawyer must use the ordinary negligence doctrine to obtain compensation for victims.
Typically, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. The types of behavioral negligence mentioned violate the duty of reasonable care. It requires motorists to be at their mental and physical best when driving. Once behind the wheel, they must drive defensively and avoid accidents.
Fault vs. Liability
These two words have many different meanings. The fault is a preliminary determination based only on the evidence at the scene. Liability is a final determination based on all the available evidence and applicable legal theories. A wrong-way wreck illustrates the difference between these two ideas from proof and legal standpoint.
Evidence at the scene usually includes the police report. If the victim was seriously injured or killed, the victim most likely didn’t state emergency responders. Therefore, the police report is biased. It only includes one side of the story.
Proof obtained after the fact, especially electronic evidence, is often game-changing. For example, a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder logs information like steering angle and brake application. So, a Houston car accident lawyer uses such evidence to piece the events together.
Furthermore, wrong-way wrecks could involve the last clear chance doctrine. This legal rule completely shifts responsibility for some wrong-way impacts. For example, if Driver A saw Driver B cross the centerline or drive on the wrong side of the road, Driver A could be legally responsible for the wreck if s/he did nothing to avoid it (i.e. s/he had the last clear chance to stop the wreck).
Comparative Fault in Car Accident Claims
Like last clear chance, comparative fault is an affirmative defense. The insurance company has the burden of production and the responsibility of persuasion.
Initially, insurance company lawyers must convince a judge that the defense could apply the facts. For example, assume Ramon was speeding on his motorcycle 10mph over the limit when Rachel cut him off in traffic. Generally, 10mph is right between a little too fast and recklessly fast. If the judge doesn’t believe Ramon was riding recklessly fast, the judge won’t allow the defense.
If the judge sides with the insurance company, its lawyers must also convince jurors that Ramon was traveling recklessly fast. Typically, convincing twelve people that a particular fact is true is much more complex than convincing one person that a fact is true. So, even if the judge allows the defense, the insurance company has an uphill battle.
These first two components of the comparative fault rule are the same in all states. However, different jurisdictions have different rules as to how this rule applies.
State Jurisdiction Rules
In some states, like neighboring Louisiana, the victim’s fault reduces the victim’s damages. In the above example, if jurors concluded that Ramon’s damages were $100,000 and he was 80 percent at fault, he’d be entitled to $20,000 (20 percent of the total). This doctrine is called pure comparative fault.
Like most other jurisdictions, the Lone Star State has a modified comparative fault rule. Victims less than 49 percent responsible for the wreck are entitled to a proportionate share of damages.
The bottom line is that even if an emergency responder or insurance company adjuster says you were at fault for a wreck, you may still be entitled to substantial compensation. You do not know how much until a qualified lawyer reviews your case.
This same rule applies in other contexts, such as a victim’s failure to wear a motorcycle helmet or seat belt. First, the insurance company must prove the victim’s failure to care for their safety, as opposed to the other party’s negligence, substantially caused the injury. Then, the insurance company must make the same pitch to jurors.
Houston Car Accident Lawyers
Liability, not fault, determines how much compensation you may be entitled to after an accident. You still have legal options if you were found partially at fault for a car accident. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart & Boundas Boundas LLP. You have a limited amount of time to act.