Determination of negligence is an important part of the claims process because it ensures that everyone hurt in a car accident is treated fairly and receives the compensation they deserve. However, figuring out who is at fault can be a complex process. It may be the case that more than one party is found responsible, particularly in multi-vehicle accidents. It’s possible that other parties, such as pedestrians or property owners, share some of the blame, too.
Imagine that you’re driving on a rural road and you don’t stop at an intersection because your views of both the stop sign and cross street are obscured by dense overgrowth from an adjacent property. As you enter the intersection, you’re struck by cross traffic. Is the accident really entirely your fault? What about the property owner, or even the other driver for not stopping in time? Can you even get compensation when multiple parties are found to be negligent? What if you are found partially at fault—does that affect your potential award at all? How fault is assigned can seriously affect the compensation you may be due.
How Compensation Is Adjusted for Fault
There are several methods used to determine appropriate compensation, based on how responsible the court thinks you are versus the other parties involved in the accident. These methods vary by state. The key terms you should be familiar with are:
- Contributory negligence. This type of legal doctrine is only used in a few states. If you are proven to be even partially negligent in the accident, you will receive little to no compensation at all.
- Pure comparative negligence. This doctrine says that your compensation will be reduced based on your contribution to the accident or injury, on a percentage basis. For example, if you are awarded $10,000 but are found to be 25% responsible, you would only receive $7,500.
- Modified comparative negligence. The majority of states follow a form of modified comparative negligence. Just like pure comparative negligence, your award will be reduced based on your contribution to the accident or injury. However, you will receive no compensation if you are found to be 51% or more at fault.
Proportionate Responsibility in Texas
The state of Texas uses the modified comparative negligence method, which is defined in state law as “proportionate responsibility.” There are multiple parties that may be involved in a claim for bodily injury or property damage:
- Claimants. That’s you, or anyone else making a claim for bodily injury or property damage.
- Defendant. This is the person, people, or other entity that you’re seeking compensation from.
- Settling person. This is someone who has already paid (or agreed to pay), in consideration of liability for the accident.
- Responsible third party. This is someone who is “alleged to have caused or contributed to causing in any way the harm for which recovery of damages is sought.”
Each of these parties is assigned a percentage of responsibility for the accident or injury. Any parties found to be greater than 50% negligent are ineligible for compensation, while any other parties who receive an award will have their compensation reduced to match their level of fault.
Think about our example from earlier involving a stop sign and cross traffic hidden by brush. When you’re seeking recovery from this accident, perhaps the property owner is found to be 60% responsible by not safely maintaining their property. Under the Texas doctrine, the property owner then wouldn’t be able to receive any compensation for a claim. However, you and the other driver are then determined to be equally responsible, at 20% each for failing to slow down and check for cross traffic at the intersection. Any compensation award made to either one of you would be reduced by 20% as a result. For example, if the award amount was $10,000, you would then only be eligible to receive $8,000.
Get Help With Your Injury Claim
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how fault determination can affect the amount you receive in a claims award. Even if you’ve never been in an accident, it never hurts to know what you should do if you get injured and it’s not your fault. If you have already been injured in an accident and have questions about the process of making a claim, you can contact an attorney at Wayne Wright LLP to speak with a skilled professional.