If you've been in a car accident, you know the importance of liability - the "liable" driver caused the accident and is therefore responsible for paying for the damages. To do that, the accident claim will use their insurance policy.
How to Determine Liability in a Car Accident
Sometimes, the liable driver is obvious. For instance, if Bob rear-ends Joe, Bob is (usually) liable. Better yet, if Bob admits that he was texting when he ran into Joe, the issue is clearly over and we know who's responsible.
In legal talk, we call Bob "at-fault" or "liable." But what if Bob says Joe cut into his lane and slammed on his brakes without giving Bob a chance to stop? Now we have a dispute, and we'll need to look at the evidence to determine who's responsible.
The Role Evidence Plays
If neither Bob nor Joe admits fault, then evidence comes into play. Evidence includes both drivers' side of the story, witness opinions, physical evidence from the scene (like skid marks), the damage to the cars and the opinion of the responding police officer.
If you're in a car accident and you think it's the other driver's fault, it's extremely important to secure your evidence quickly. If there are severe damage or injuries, I'd advise you to hire an attorney to ensure the evidence is properly obtained.
I mentioned the opinion of the responding police officer counts as evidence. After a car wreck, you must call 911. The responding officer will assign fault in their police report. Though the officer's opinion isn't always accurate, it usually does a good job and can be used later on if the issue of liability is in dispute.
See Analysis of a Texas Police Report for more information on when a report is done, what one contains, and the accuracy and reliability of these police reports. If you don't yet have the accident report, learn how to Obtain Your Police Report.
Who Ultimately Decides Liability?
The insurance company.
Let's take another look at Bob and Joe. Joe puts the blame on Bob, but Bob denies responsibility for the accident. When Joe files a claim against Bob's insurance (in other words, when Joe tries to get Bob's insurance to pay for his damaged car and injuries), Bob's insurance company must make the choice: do they think their client, Bob, was at-fault?
If the insurance company "accepts liability," then the claim gets moving toward a resolution, which is a good sign.
If the insurance company "denies liability," then the only way Joe's going to win is if he files a lawsuit.
Once you file a lawsuit, liability is decided by a jury (instead of the insurance company).
What Happens If Both Drivers are At-Fault?
Sometimes one driver was clearly 100 percent at fault. Other times, both drivers share fault. Texas is a comparative responsibility state, meaning people can share the blame.
So what if you're found to be partially at fault? You'll need to look into the details. Does the insurance company think 20 percent of the blame is yours? Sixty percent? The rule is that if you're more than 50 percent at-fault, you can NOT make a claim against the other driver for compensation. (Basically, you mostly caused the wreck so you need to pay for it).
On the other hand, if you didn't "mostly" cause the wreck, you can still file a claim against the other driver to recover money for damage to your car, injuries, pain and suffering. You might not get as much money as you would have if you were zero percent responsible for the accident, but that shouldn't stop you from making a claim.
Here's an example. John is running late for his date with Sally. He crashes his car into Bob's pickup truck, sending Bob to the hospital with serious injuries. At the end of the trial, the jury awards Bob $100,000 in damages, but it's also discovered that Bob was texting at the time of the accident and wasn't paying attention to the road around him.
For this reason, Bob is told he's 25 percent responsible for the wreck. Bob would not be entitled to the full $100,000 awarded by the jury. Instead, the judge would reduce his award by 25 percent (or $25,000), and a judgment would be entered in Bob's favor for $75,000.
Ultimately, Bob still receives compensation, but not as much as he could have, had he not been found partially at-fault for the crash.
Call a Texas Board Certified Personal Injury Attorney
Preserving evidence and properly presenting your claim is very important. If you've been hurt in a Fort Worth car wreck, please don't hesitate to call me - it's free to set up a meeting and ask questions. You can call me at 817-294-1900 or Contact Me Online.
Download My Free Insurance Guide
Want to learn more about auto insurance in Texas, and what you really need to be fully covered? I wrote a free guide for Texas drivers to help them make the right choices - and to prevent costly mistakes - when choosing an auto insurance policy. You can download my guide here.
Other Articles You Might Be Interested In:
Evidence Used By Personal Injury Lawyers In Texas
Obtaining Your Texas Car Accident Report
How to Investigate an Accident
What to Do After an Accident
Is There A Deadline For Submitting A Personal Injury Claim?