Proportional comparative fault, often referred to as proportionate responsibility in Texas, may shift some of the blame for the accident onto the plaintiff. If this happens, plaintiffs might lose out on valuable compensation.
Proportionate responsibility, also called comparative fault, may see a portion of the blame for an accident assigned to the plaintiff. When this happens, the court may reduce damages and compensation. You can still recover damages if you are partially responsible, but if you are deemed more than 50% at fault, you might be barred from recovering any damages at all. Proportionate responsibility is usually expressed as a percentage and based on factors including negligent acts or omissions allegedly committed by the plaintiff. It is possible that multiple parties may be assigned fault, including third parties not directly involved in the case. Comparative fault principles generally apply to many personal injury claims, including those involving multiple parties, like multi-vehicle accidents. Certain cases, however, might be unaffected.
Call our Dallas personal injury lawyers for help with any allegations of comparative fault by calling The Queenan Law Firm at (817) 476-1797 and set up a free evaluation of your case.
How Does Proportional Comparative Fault Affect My Accident Lawsuit in Texas?
In many states, the term comparative fault or negligence is used to describe how blame for an accident might be shared between a plaintiff and defendant. Texas adheres to a modified comparative fault rule, but this rule is often referred to as proportionate responsibility.
Proportionate responsibility is the term used to describe the apportionment of blame for an accident between two or more parties. This tends to come up when defendants argue that plaintiffs are at least partially to blame for their own accidents or for exacerbating their injuries. While plaintiffs may still recover damages and be awarded compensation after a finding of proportionate responsibility, there are limits. If a plaintiff shares too big of a share of the blame for an accident, their damages and compensation might be in jeopardy.
The law regarding proportionate responsibility in Texas can be found under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.001. Under these laws, if you are determined by the court to be partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, your damages may be reduced according to your share of fault. Such accusations from a defendant should be taken very seriously, and our Houston personal injury lawyers can help you work to minimize their impact on your damages and compensation.
For example, if you are found to be 10% at fault, your damages may be reduced by 10%. This might be a cause for concern if the defendant argues that you are responsible for a large portion of the accident. A significant reduction in damages means you will not get the compensation you need and deserve. Our Irving personal injury attorneys can help you challenge allegations of any contributions you supposedly made to the accident and keep your compensation as high as possible.
What Happens if I am Found to Be More than 50% At Fault for the Accident in Texas?
As mentioned before, there is only so much room for proportionate responsibility in a plaintiff’s case before they are in serious trouble. In Texas, the cut-off point is anything over 50%. If you are found to be proportionally responsible for more than 50% of the total fault for the accident, you may be barred from recovering any damages. In such a case, your compensation would be reduced to zero, even if the defendant still shares some portion of the blame.
You should also talk to your attorney about the possibility of a lawsuit filed against you by the defendant. If you are deemed by the court to hold more than 50% of the blame, the defendant might turn things around and sue you for damages they sustained in the accident.
If this happens, your attorney can help you reduce the defendant’s damages by employing the same tactics used against you. We can argue that, under the rules of proportionate responsibility, the defendant’s damages should be reduced by their share of the blame.
For example, if you are held by the court to be 60% responsible for the accident and the defendant 40%, you may be barred from recovering any damages and compensation. If the defendant tries to sue you for the same accident, their damages should be reduced by 40%, as that represents their share of fault.
Can I Still Recover Damages if I am Partially at Fault for the Accident?
As long as you are not found to be responsible for more than 50% of the fault in your injury case, you may still recover damages. In some cases, plaintiffs might see their damages greatly reduced, but recovery is still possible. For example, if you are found to be 45% proportionally responsible by the court, you may only recover 55% of your overall damages. If you initially claimed $100,000 in damages, you may only recover a maximum of $55,000.
Dealing with allegations of comparative fault is never easy. Often, the goal is to minimize the impact on your damages by presenting evidence showing that the defendant bears all the blame. It is not uncommon for defendants to try and argue over the plaintiff’s supposed negligence during the accident not because they truly believe the plaintiff was negligent, but as a last-ditch effort to avoid liability.
Our Texas personal injury attorneys can help you present evidence showing how the defendant’s negligent actions are entirely to blame for the accident. Suppose you did happen to do something negligent. In that case, we can find evidence that shows your actions had no impact or effect on the accident or your injuries and should not be considered for proportionate responsibility.
How is the Percentage of Fault Determined in Texas Accident Cases?
How issues of proportionate responsibility are determined is described under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.003. According to this law, proportionate responsibility is determined by the trier of fact. This is often a jury, but it might instead be a judge in the event of a bench trial.
The trier of fact may assess proportionate responsibility and determine a whole number to reflect the percentage of each party’s degree of fault. Proportionate responsibility may be based on various factors, including negligent actions, omissions, or conduct that violates certain legal standards applicable to the case.
These rules on how comparative fault is decided are somewhat vague, as the exact considerations will vary from case to case. For example, how a jury or judge apportions fault for a plaintiff’s injuries in a car accident case will differ greatly from what is considered in a product liability case.
Proportionate responsibility is assessed for each cause of action raised in your case. If multiple causes of actions are raised, then each action will be assessed for proportionate responsibility separately. As such, it is possible to be found proportionally responsible for one cause of action but not for another.
Questions of proportionate responsibility may not be submitted to the trier of fact without evidence supporting the submission. Essentially, allegations of proportionate responsibility may not be baseless. If the defendant tries to argue you are partially responsible, they must have some evidence backing up their claims.
Can More Than Two Parties Be Assigned Fault in a Texas Accident Lawsuit?
More than one party may be assigned fault in an accident lawsuit. Many people are surprised to learn that numerous accidents are often the fault of multiple parties. As such, several people may be deemed responsible for your accident and injuries.
The defendant may know of another person or entity they believe should be held responsible but has not been made a party to the plaintiff’s case. In such cases, defendants may try to designate a responsible third party. Rules for the designation of a responsible third party can be found under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.004.
If the defendant believes someone not named in the case (i.e., a third party) shares responsibility for the accident, they may file a motion for leave to designate this new person or entity as a responsible third party. Such a motion must be filed no later than 60 days before the trial is set to begin. If the motion is filed later than this, the court can accept it if it finds good reasons for the late filing.
If you disagree with the defendant’s claims that a third party shares blame for the accident, you may file an objection to the defendant’s motion. Your objection must be filed no later than 15 days after the defendant submits their motion to designate a responsible third party.
Your objection must establish two important things to defeat the defendant’s motion successfully. First, your objection must show that the defendant did not plead sufficient facts regarding the alleged responsible third party. Second, you must show that, after the defendant was permitted to replead the facts of their motion, they again failed to plead sufficient facts establishing a responsible third party.
In cases where there are no responsible third parties, there might still be more than two parties who share the blame for an accident. For example, a plaintiff might sue two or more defendants for an accident. In that case, the defendants might argue that the plaintiff is partially at fault, and blame might be apportioned among all of them.
Can I Be Barred From Recovering Damages if My Fault Exceeds a Certain Percentage?
You may be barred from recovering damages if your fault exceeds that of the defendant. If you are suing more than one defendant, your fault must exceed the fault of both defendants in order for you to be barred from recovering damages.
As discussed before, the cut-off point for recovering damages in cases involving proportionate responsibility is 50%. The court may dismiss your case if you are deemed more than 50% responsible for your accident. This is different than states that follow a pure comparative fault rule. Under such a rule, a plaintiff may continue to recover damages as long as their share of the fault is less than 100%. For example, a plaintiff could be 99% responsible for the accident and still recover 1% of their damages.
Texas’ modified comparative fault rule is a hard rule, and there is little to be done once the trier of fact determines whether the plaintiff’s fault is more than 50%. Arguably, the best strategy is to work against the defendant’s arguments by highlighting how your actions either had no impact on the accident or had such a minor effect that your proportion of fault is negligible.
To make the matter even more frustrating, you may be barred from recovering damages even if the defendant is responsible for a substantial percentage of fault, albeit less than 50%. For example, if you are deemed 55% responsible for the accident and the defendant is 45% responsible, you cannot recover the 45% of your damages the defendant is responsible for. Depending on the situation, this might reflect a large sum of compensation.
Does Proportional Comparative Fault Apply to All Personal Injury Cases in Texas?
Proportional comparative fault applies in many cases. One could argue that most injury cases are subject to questions of proportionate responsibility and comparative fault. While certain cases might be exempt from such arguments, proportionate responsibility generally applies to all personal injury cases.
If you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is safe to assume that rules of proportionate responsibility will apply. It is best to speak to a Midland, TX personal injury attorney about the nature of your claims to know for sure whether the rule applies or if your case is exempt.
Personal injury claims span a broad spectrum of accidents and injuries. Car accidents, defective products, slip and fall accidents, and even wrongful death claims might be affected by allegations of comparative fault.
Exempt claims are usually not personal injury cases, as described in more detail below. It is sometimes tricky to make this differentiation, as many of these cases appear very similar to personal injury claims. Speak to an attorney about your claims as soon as possible.
If you are unsure whether your case is affected by comparative fault rules or are unsure whether you are partially responsible for your accident, talk to an experienced lawyer immediately. There is a chance that comparative fault rules apply to your case, as only a select few types of cases are exempt, and you must discuss with your attorney any possibility of being found proportionately responsible.
If I am Involved in a Multi-Vehicle Accident, How is Fault Divided Among the Parties?
Proportionate responsibility may be assessed in multi-vehicle accident cases, similar to how it is assessed in typical cases involving one plaintiff and one defendant. If you sue several other drivers after a multi-vehicle accident and one or more of them claim you are partially responsible, proportionate responsibility may be assessed individually.
This means that each defendant will be evaluated for proportionate responsibility separate from the others. As such, one defendant might be responsible for a significant share of the blame, while the others share only a small percentage of fault. For you to be barred from recovery, your percentage of the fault must exceed that of all the defendants. In short, the combined fault of all the defendants must be less than 50%, and your fault should exceed 50%.
While multiple defendants might share varying degrees and percentages of fault, they may all still be jointly and severally liable. Joint and several liability is a legal phrase that describes the liability shared by more than one person. Essentially, even though each defendant might be responsible for a different percentage of fault, they are all equally responsible for paying damages.
This means that even if one of the defendants in a multi-vehicle accident case is only responsible for a small portion of the responsibility for the crash, they are just as liable as the other defendants. If and when they have to pay damages, they may argue about their share of the contribution. A defendant’s contribution is how much money they contribute to paying for damages. Generally, defendants may argue for their contribution to reflect their share of the blame. Whatever happens, you should still be getting fair compensation.
Are There Any Exceptions or Situations Where Proportional Comparative Fault Does Not Apply in Texas?
There are three specific categories of cases under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 33.002(2)(c) that the laws regarding proportionate responsibility do not apply to.
Workers’ Compensation Cases
First, cases involving actions to collect Workers’ Compensation benefits or actions against employers for exemplary or punitive damages from the death of an employee are not subject to proportionate responsibility arguments. Workers’ Compensation cases are often not based on fault, and injured workers may still collect benefits even if they are totally responsible for the accident. As such, claims of proportionate responsibility cannot be used to deny the injured worker benefits.
Second, claims for exemplary damages are generally not affected by arguments of proportionate responsibility. The fact that a plaintiff is responsible for a certain percentage of the overall fault for their accident does not reduce potential exemplary damages. This is likely due to the fact that exemplary damages are not awarded to compensate plaintiffs for losses or injuries. These damages are instead awarded to punish defendants and deter future bad behavior. The fact that the plaintiff is somewhat responsible for causing the accident does not negate the defendant’s malice required to find exemplary damages.
Certain Controlled Substances
Third, a cause of action stemming from injuries related to the manufacture of methamphetamine is not affected by claims of proportionate responsibility. This is because injuries related to manufacturing methamphetamine typically involve strict liability. Strict liability cases involve defendants who may be held liable for injuries regardless of their intent or mental state. As such, they are not affected by arguments of comparative fault or proportionate responsibility.
Strategies to Counteract Claims of Comparative Fault in Texas Injury Cases
If one of the defendants in your case is accusing you of somehow contributing to the accident that caused your injuries, you should talk to your attorney about how to shoot down these claims. One strategy is to highlight the defendant’s contributions to the accident over your own, if any.
This is often an effective tactic in cases where the plaintiff might have contributed only slightly, but the defendant is responsible for the vast majority of fault or blame. A jury might see this difference and decide not to believe any minor contribution you might have made to the accident.
Is there any reason for the defendant to lie? If we suspect the defendant is being dishonest about how you supposedly caused your accident and injuries, we should look for evidence to prove it. Dishonesty from defendants is not unusual, especially when the stakes are high and the defendant might end up paying a large amount of compensation. Perhaps the defendant made statements previously about how they are solely responsible, or maybe there is simply no evidence to back up their false claims.
Still, another possible strategy is to address your negligent actions head-on but explain how they could not have affected the accident. Perhaps you did do something negligent or unwise when the accident occurred. However, the mere fact that you acted negligently is not enough to prove claims of comparative fault. It is possible that your negligent actions had no effect whatsoever on the accident. If you had behaved differently, would the accident have turned out differently? We can help you prove the answer to this question is no.
Contact Our Texas Personal Injury Attorneys for Help Assessing Fault in Your Case
Call our Plano, TX personal injury attorneys for assistance with comparative fault issues by calling The Queenan Law Firm at (817) 476-1797 and schedule a free review of your case.