Understanding the specific principles that influence the outcome of a personal injury claim can help you get the best result, and a fundamental concept in Texas law is that of comparative negligence. Read on to learn more about this legal doctrine, and contact a Bryan, TX or Hempstead, TX lawyer right away to find out how it will specifically affect your claim.
Understanding Comparative Negligence
Negligence refers to one party’s failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to another.
When an accident occurs, though, often there’s not just one party that is entirely at fault. The injured person might also have a degree of responsibility. Texas follows the rule of “comparative negligence,” which addresses these situations by allocating fault to each party and using this to determine whether they can bring a personal injury claim and whether their compensation should be reduced to reflect their fault.
Comparative negligence is sometimes referred to as proportionate responsibility, and it acknowledges that a person may be partially responsible for their own injury. In such cases, the court assesses the total damages of everyone involved and then reduces them by the fault held by each party.
Impact on Compensation
Comparative negligence directly affects the amount of compensation you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit. Texas has what’s known as a “modified” comparative negligence system, specifically the “51% bar rule.” Under this rule, you can seek damages, but only as long as you are not more responsible for the accident than the other party involved.
Here’s how it works: if your total damages amount to $100,000, and you were 20% at fault for the accident, the maximum compensation you could receive would be $80,000, reflecting a reduction based on your share of the blame. However, if you were found to be 51% or more at fault, you would not be entitled to recover any compensation under Texas law.
This method ensures that while individuals can seek redress for accidents where they were not primarily responsible, they cannot benefit when an accident occurs because primarily because of their own actions. It’s designed to promote fairness and accountability in personal injury claims.
Establishing Fault in Texas Personal Injury Cases
As you can probably now imagine, one of the most contentious aspects of any personal injury case is determining the degree of fault of each party. Doing so involves collecting all the evidence, such as accident reports, witness statements, camera footage, and any relevant documentation that recounts the incident specifics, and then putting it together to get an accurate picture of what happened. This evidence is crucial in persuading insurance companies, or a jury or judge, of the validity of your claim and your interpretation of the event.
Dealing With Insurance Companies
When you’re trying to get compensation in a personal injury case, interactions with insurance companies are inevitable, and these companies have protocols in place to protect themselves as well as experienced personnel who scrutinize every detail of an incident to determine liability. They will apply comparative negligence rules to try to justify their compensation proposal, but always with the end goal in mind: minimizing the amount they have to pay out. Insurance companies are, after all, businesses which exist to make a profit.
For this reason, it’s common for an insurance adjuster to at least attempt to argue that you bear a greater percentage of fault than you really do. For instance, in a slip-and-fall case, they might argue hard that any “reasonable” person would have noticed and avoided the hazard, suggesting you are largely to blame for your accident and the subsequence injuries.
In these negotiations, your attorney’s role is to advocate on your behalf, challenging unfair assumptions and conclusions about your responsibility. Your lawyer will present counterarguments, demonstrated by the evidence, to negotiate a fair settlement based on the actual facts of the accident. Without legal representation, you might find yourself outmaneuvered and forced to accept far less compensation than you’re entitled to.
Challenging Comparative Negligence Claims
There are scenarios where you might strongly disagree with a comparative negligence ruling, especially if it significantly slashes your compensation or even entirely dismisses your claim. In such instances, you or your attorney can challenge this decision. The first step is to scrutinize the evidence used to establish fault. Were all factors considered? Were any relevant details overlooked? By conducting a thorough review, your attorney might be able to find inconsistencies or new evidence that can be leveraged in your favor.
Sometimes, third-party accounts provide an unbiased perspective that can sway opinions about the incident. If these testimonies contradict the current fault allocation, there are grounds to contest the initial decision. It’s also worth reviewing the standards set for “reasonable care” in the context of your case. This term refers to how an average person would act in similar circumstances. If it can be demonstrated that your actions align with how any reasonable individual would have reacted, you can challenge claims of negligence on your part.
The Appellate Process
If efforts to contest the comparative negligence verdict in your case prove unsuccessful, it is sometimes possible to appeal the court’s decision. The appellate process involves petitioning a higher court to review and potentially overturn a lower court’s ruling on the grounds of legal misinterpretation or overlooked evidence. Filing an appeal is very complicated and requires a comprehensive understanding of all the laws and court procedures that apply.
Your lawyer will need to draft a detailed brief, citing specific legal bases for the appeal, and may need to present oral arguments before the appellate court. This process examines whether the initial trial court made an error that significantly impacted the case’s outcome, not simply whether the evidence could be interpreted differently. Given the strict procedural rules and the high stakes involved, having an experienced lawyer is absolutely critical.
Maintaining Your Rights in a Comparative Negligence Case
Because comparative negligence has the potential to drastically reduce your compensation, you must aggressively advocate for your rights at all times during the process.
A crucial right is that of seeking a second opinion. If you’re already bringing a claim, and your lawyer isn’t working hard to protect you, you can and should work with a more experienced lawyer who will fight hard for your rights. This fresh perspective can also sometimes unveil new approaches or overlooked details that can help your case.
If your case involves negotiating a settlement, you have the right to be involved in the decision-making process. Moreover, confidentiality is a fundamental right. The details of your case, medical records, and personal information must be handled discreetly, shared strictly on a need-to-know basis to further your case. Any breach of this confidentiality can be grounds for legal action.
Contact a Bryan, TX or Hempstead, TX Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
Comparative negligence in Texas personal injury can make things very complex, and you should work with a skilled and experienced lawyer who has a track record of fighting hard for client rights. If you’re thinking about bringing a claim or have already started but aren’t getting the strong representation you deserve, contact Brian Gutierrez, Personal Injury Trial Lawyer right now for a free consultation.