The key components of every accident in the state of Texas are determining fault, contributory negligence, policy limits, and statute of limitations. All of these are key in establishing whether or not you have a case and how much it may be worth. Let’s break each of these down simply.
Texas is a FAULT State
Texas is a FAULT state, which means the driver who caused the accident is responsible for the damages. However, not all drivers in Texas have auto insurance. If you’re hit by an uninsured driver, you can either go after the driver individually or pursue your own auto policy if you have protection against uninsured drivers. That said, going after someone individually is extremely challenging unless it is a business, or the individual has sustainable assets to go after.
Texas is a Contributory Negligence state, which means if a driver is 51% at fault for the accident or more, they cannot recover any settlement for their damages. Only drivers who are 49% at fault or less can recover settlement damages. The percentage will determine the settlement amount. For example, if your case is worth $100,000 but you were 20% at fault, your settlement would only be worth $80,000 because of the contributory negligence you contributed to the accident.
It’s important to know your at-fault percentage for pursuing a case-- most law firms will avoid cases where the percentage is too high because the reduced value doesn’t justify the expense of pursuing it. A good rule of thumb for whether or not your case is worth pursuing is if the other driver is at least 75% at fault.
Texas requires a Minimum Policy Limit of $30,000 per person / $60,000 per accident for injury claims and $25,000 for property damage claims. This does not mean you receive these amounts automatically; it means those are the maximum amounts of money available to you to resolve your claims if needed.
A couple notes: Not all drivers carry Minimum Policy Limits. Common limits are $50,000 per person / $100,000 per accident, $100,000/$300,000 and even $1 Million Dollars + at times.
Statute of Limitations
Texas has a 2 year statute of limitations, which means you have up to two years to settle your claim or file a lawsuit. But don’t wait for two years to pursue your case… in order to receive compensation from a claim, there needs to be tangible damages. In other words, you need medical bills and treatment that are reasonable and necessary related to your accident. The longer you wait, the harder this will be to prove.
Who is Legally
A common standard in legal circles is “reasonable.” When it comes to determining fault or guilt, our actions are measured against what a “reasonable” person would have done in that scenario. Driving a car is no different. Texas law says that drivers have a legal duty to drive their vehicle as a reasonably prudent person should under the circumstances, while following all the rules of the road. And when an accident occurs, that legal duty needs to be examined for all parties.
Typically, after an accident, a police officer will make the first determination of fault by using Texas Peace Officer Crash Codes. Specifically, they’ll mark down on the accident report which driver and/or factors contributed to the accident. In particularly obvious cases, officers may give clearly at-fault drivers a citation(s), which is a criminal offense for the accident.
All auto accident claims are settled through civil law, not criminal. This means that insurance companies don’t have to go by the officer’s determination when doing their own fault assessment for the accident. They may agree with the police conclusion, or they can make their own determination. Most of the time, however, insurance adjusters will side with the police providing no new information arises (such as admission of guilt in recorded statement, witnesses, video evidence, etc).
THE MOST COMMON AT-FAULT CAUSE OF AN ACCIDENT IS NEGLIGENCE.
How to Determine
Crashes are called accidents because most commonly, they are just that… an accident caused by a careless or negligent driver. Negligence as defined by the law is the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another person(s). For winning your case, establishing negligence is essential to proving someone else was at fault and that you deserve compensation. In this section, we’ll help simplify the terms that determine negligence and how you can be prepared to argue for them on your behalf.
The relationship between you and other drivers requiring you to act with a “standard of care” towards each other. You are both sharing the road; you have a duty of a standard of care for each other’s well-being.
BREACH OF DUTY
You need to prove that the negligent party breached or violated their duty to you as a fellow driver or individual. Essentially, they didn’t act as a reasonable person should who has the duty of a standard of care towards other drivers and people.
CAUSE IN FACT
This is basically proof that the at-fault party’s actions were the direct cause of your pain and suffering and would not have happened without their actions. It’s often referred to as “but-for causation,” as in “but for the actions of this party, my pain and suffering would not have occurred.”
Proximate Cause is slightly different from Cause in Fact in that it refers to damages that were caused as an indirect result of the at-fault party’s actions. They may have not been the first or second occurrence in a chain of events, but they could have been reasonably foreseen given the negligence of the at-fault party.
Damages are legally recognized harm, usually in the form of physical injury to a person or property (such as a car accident). It’s not enough to claim that you deserve compensation for negligent actions; you have to establish that there were actual damages as a result of that negligence that serve as the basis for your compensation.
Am I Entitled To?
Am I Entitled To?
If you are in an accident caused by another driver, you’re entitled to specific damages depending on your injuries, necessary medical treatment, the type of accident, how it negatively affects your life, how much you forfeit in lost wages, and more. Texas Law breaks damages into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Let’s break down these three categories a bit further.
Economic damages have to do with a quantifiable dollar amount lost because of your injuries or hardship; non-economic refers to compensation that is approximated for things like pain & suffering or mental anguish; and punitive is essentially damages that are awarded as a means of punishment or deterrence against future reckless behavior. So how do these apply to your case? Let’s look at specific examples for each type of damages:
Reasonable and necessary medical expenses from reasonable and necessary medical services such as doctors, emergency room treatment, ambulance fees, radiology, chiropractic treatment, and more. You need to show that the expenses are related to medical conditions directly resulting from your injury.
FUTURE MEDICAL EXPENSES
Following similar guidelines as above, you need to prove that you will need continued and ongoing medical care as a result of your accident/injury.
A calculation of money that you would have earned from the time of the injury to the date of settlement or judgment had the accident not occurred.
LOST EARNING CAPACITY
Proof that your ability to earn money in the future has been directly impaired or diminished by the injuries caused in your accident.
The cost of hiring someone to do things around your house while you are recovering from your accident or injury, provided that the expense would have not have been incurred had the plaintiff not been injured.
What Other Laws
Do I Need to Be Aware Of?
Do I Need to Be Aware Of?
If you’re the victim in an accident, your best bet for getting fairly compensated is to make sure you have personally followed every law and are aware of the relevant law surrounding your situation. Knowing some of this information ahead of time can help tremendously during your claims process. Let’s review some important Texas car accident laws:
REPORT THE ACCIDENT TO THE POLICE
Texas law requires that drivers involved in an accident report it to the police if it results in property damage (exceeding $1,000), injury, or death.
CLAIM ACCEPTED OR REJECTED IN TIME FRAME
Insurance companies must respond to your claim, in writing, notifying you that your claim has either been accepted or rejected in no more than 15 business days after they receive all items, reports, statements, and forms required by the policy to secure final proof of loss.
The law further states: “If the insurer is unable to accept or reject the claim within the time period they must notify the claimant of the reasons that the insurer needs additional time. The insurer shall accept or reject the claim not later than the 45th day after the date the insurer notifies a claimant.”
UNFAIR CLAIM SETTLEMENT PRACTICES
The law protects the rights of the policyholder in the face of unjustified actions from an insurance company such as misrepresentation of policy provisions like coverage, failing to conduct a reasonably timed investigation, a good faith settlement offer when liability is clear, etc. In other words-- don’t get jerked around by the insurance company. They have to follow the law the same as you.
LOSS OF USE
If you lose the use of your personal property (namely, your car) after an accident, insurance should pay for a rental vehicle or give a loss of use check that is consistent with a reasonable amount of time to be without a vehicle due to the accident. In Texas, an estimate of $30 per day is considered reasonable at this time.
If an insurance company rejects a reasonable offer within policy limits and a jury subsequently returns a verdict in excess of the policy limits, the insurance company may end up being on the hook for the entire verdict. This is to discourage insurance agencies from rejecting reasonable claims in order to avoid paying.
Direct quote from the law: “An operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of a person or damage to a vehicle that is driven or attended by a person shall give information and provide reasonable care to injury.”
Policy holders must reject in writing Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Bodily Injury and Property Damage coverage in its entirety or it is not valid.