Personal injury Library

What Are Negligence Theories of Liability?

Under Texas law, there are several main "theories of negligence" that are routinely used in car accident cases.

There is no written law on the books, per se, against car accidents. The Texas Legislature hasn't (to date) created a "Thou Shalt Not" statute forbidding drivers from hitting another car without justification.

Instead, most injury claims arising from motor vehicle collisions are premised on a court-created theory of negligence---a somewhat general concept, which basically means that all people must behave reasonably, so to behave a different way violates this "reasonable person standard". For such a violation, the driver is deemed negligent and must therefore compensate their victim.

The convenience that comes from negligence-based law like this is that rather than having millions of laws that say things like, "It is illegal to drive blindfolded," "it is illegal to drive while eating a doughnut," "it is illegal to drive while cleaning your gun," etc., the general rule of "you can sue someone when their negligence hurts you," is much more efficient since it applies to virtually any kind of scenario where injuries are caused by carelessness.

So, we really don't need a million car-wreck-specific laws created by our lawmakers in Austin, because the ability to sue for negligence, in general, creates a standard by which all manner of bad conduct behind the wheel can be sued for. In other words, the general negligence concept is a catch-all that allows you to sue for basically any unreasonable move made by the other driver that hurts you, thereby making it unnecessary to have hundreds of car-specific laws.

Since many car accident scenarios play out over and over again, negligence arguments that are specifically catered to common types of driver misconduct have evolved. Lawyers and the courts like to group things and categorize them as best they can. So, even though the general negligence doctrine is the basis for car accident claims, the more common car accident misconduct negligence arguments get their own labels. For instance, rather than suing a driver who was driving blindfolded under a general negligence accusation, there now exists a "distracted driving negligence argument." This is about more than convenience.

Further, since there are some things the court lets you sue people for and some they don't, the theories of car accident negligence listed below (ones that are so commonly used that they have their own name) are all tried and true Texas-court-accepted negligence arguments that can be used in a car accident case. If it's listed below, you can sue someone for it. If not, maybe you can, maybe you can't, but even if you can, you'll need to present it to the court as a general negligence argument.

How the the elements of negligence generally apply in car accident cases:

Texas's injury laws generally require an injury victim to prove things - called "elements" - regarding their case before they can hold the party or parties responsible for their wrongful actions. At a very basic level, these elements are:

  1. That the driver had a duty to operate their vehicle with the care and skill of an ordinary person of reasonable sensibilities;
  2. The driver breached that duty by their actions or failure to act;
  3. As a direct result of their breach, the driver caused a collision and the victim's injuries, both of which were a foreseeable result of his conduct; and
  4. That as a result of sustaining injuries in the collision, the victim suffered suffered physical, emotional, and/or economic damages for which he deserves to be compensated.

This might seem a little rigid and quite foreign, it'll make sense when applied.

How this works out in practice:

Below are the main types of activities that courts have found to be "negligent." While on their faces they may seem simple and obvious, we expound upon them in the links to show you how courts generally sift through what the the other driver did:

  • Failure to act as a reasonably prudent driver: A catch-all term that alleges a driver did something plainly unacceptable. This is an especially useful allegation when what the other driver did doesn't fit neatly into another category.
  • Failure to control speed: Not the same thing as "speeding," per se. Instead, given the conditions of the roadway, a driver was driving too fast.
  • Failure to yield the right of way: While a bit hard to define, we're supposed to give others leeway on the roads.<
  • Failure to take evasive action: Where an accident has already occurred or a car is stopped on the road, a driver should be able to make every effort to avoid an accident.
  • Distracted driving: Any time a driver takes his eyes off the road for something else, he's "distracted."
  • Failure to keep lookout: Similar to failure to take evasive action, drivers cannot simply assume that roadways are free of impediments.
  • Failure to apply brakes: If a driver fails to slow down with enough time to avoid an accident, he's likely negligent.
  • Failure to maintain lane: Every driver knows what those white and yellow lines are for on the roads. When they ignore them, they may be held liable.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a motor vehicle collision, the Texas car accident attorneys of Grossman Law Offices want you to know we're here to help you recover the compensation you deserve. For a free consultation, give us a toll-free call anytime, day or night, at (855) 326-0000.

Further reading about the various specific forms of car accident negligence:

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