How a Negligence Cause of Action Works Under Texas Law
In this article, we're going to discuss what "negligence" actually is, how it's applied in Texas personal injury claims---and, by extension, wrongful death claims.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What exactly is a negligence cause of action?
- What are the elements of a negligence personal injury case in Texas?
- How do I know if someone was negligent when they injured me?
What is "Negligence"?
Victims of personal injuries know that they've been hurt, and they usually know who it was who they believe caused the accident. Common sense might lead you to believe that your case is basically complete. But just like we don't throw people in jail without proving guilt, we do not award compensation to accident victims unless we can prove the person who caused the accident was at fault. The "fault" in accident cases is referred to as "negligence."
There is no law written by a legislature or local government board defining in detail what "negligence" is, but courts generally define negligence as "failing to abide by the standards of a reasonable person in a similar circumstance." Confused? In part, that's because since there is no way to foresee every single circumstance in which an accident can happen and legislate accordingly, we have a catch-all term that allows victims to sue someone, or a company, when they've behaved badly.
Think about it this way. Imagine yourself as a lawmaker charged with writing laws to protect the citizens of your state. The laws have to be specific enough that normal people can understand them and follow them. You could write laws for a thousand years and never come up with laws prohibiting exactly each and every scenario that could come about. That's why we have negligence.
"But I didn't mean to hurt that person!"
From the time we were children, we've all known deep-down the difference between intentional acts and "thoughtless mistakes." An intentional act that results in harm requires some sort of malice, whereas a thoughtless mistake involves ignoring a potential outcome. The difference, between the intentional and the thoughtless, is essentially the dividing line between criminal and negligent conduct. If a store employee and customer become argumentative and the customer if shoved down the stairs, you can reasonably infer from the action that the employee wanted to hurt the customer.
That's a criminal act we often refer to as "assault" and will likely result in jail time. If, however, a careless store employee leaves a puddle of water on the store's steps and the customer falls down the stairs, that's obviously very different. We're not happy with the employee and his puddle of water, but we don't think he should go to jail. He simply ignored a problem, and even if he's very upset that the accident happened, the fact remains that he ignored something that created a dangerous circumstance.
Just to clarify, while the intent of a person certainly plays a role in allegations, the fact that a person did something to injure someone is reason enough to warrant a lawsuit. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "Acts should be judged by their tendency under the known circumstances, not by the actual intent which accompanies them."
Here are some examples that are useful to illuminate the different between a criminal acts and a negligent act.
- Criminal: A thief is robbing a local convenience store and a Good Samaritan intervenes to protect the store-owner. The thief is irritated, pulls out a gun, and shoots and kills the Good Samaritan. This is murder, plain and simple. The thief knew he would likely kill the man and pulled the trigger anyhow.
- Negligent: Intending on cleaning it the next day, a homeowner leaves his hunting rifle in the kitchen rather than lock it up. He invites his neighbor over that night to watch a ballgame, and at some point the rifle falls from the kitchen table, discharges, and kills the neighbor.
- See the difference?This is an easy example because the distinction between the two is obvious. The thief was committing a criminal act and used his gun with clear malice against the Good Samaritan. The homeowner didn't want his neighbor dead, but made a (deadly) mistake in not securing his hunting rifle.
- Criminal:A man sees his ex-girlfriend walking down the street. Heartbroken and angry because she left him, he guns the engine and runs into her. She's killed in the accident.
- Negligent:A man loses his girlfriend to another guy and spends an evening getting intoxicated at a downtown bar. Thoroughly drunk, he decides to drive home anyway. A block away from the bar, he passes out, his car swerves onto a curve, and hits a man walking home from work. The pedestrian is killed.
- See the difference?: This one is a little trickier. The man who killed his girlfriend is plainly a murderer, but what of the drunk driver? Everyone knows it's illegal to drive intoxicated, and the drunk driver caused the man's death while committing a crime! The difference is that while his intentional act of drunk driving is a crime, he didn't intend to kill the pedestrian. The drunk driver will be simultaneously a criminal (for drunk driving and unintentional vehicular manslaughter) and civilly negligent in causing the death of the pedestrian.
By now, you see that negligence is a thoughtless---often profoundly stupid---decision that resulted in the death or injury of another.
Texas Law Allows You to Sue Someone for Negligence
As we've seen, negligence can manifest itself in a variety of ways. So how do you know if you have a right to sue? Afterall, there are some that the law seeks to protect even when they act negligently. For example, if you're struck by a police officer or a doctor does your harm, there are limits that have been put in place to how you can seek to recover your losses.
Let's look at a thought experiment to help demonstrate how to know if you have a negligence claim:
- Do I have an injury?
- Did the person who injured me owe me a duty to keep from harming me?
- Is there a remedy for my losses under the law?
If the answer is "yes" to these questions, chances are you have a negligence claim. Certainly, this is oversimplified. The best way to know if your situation involved negligence is to give us a call. We can tell you.
Was the person who caused your accident "negligent"?
If you or a loved one have been hurt, it's tempting to simply assume that the individual or company who hurt you was therefore "negligent." This may well be true. But defendants in these cases will argue that they weren't at fault, that the accident was some kind of fluke, or that even you were responsible.
The bottom line is that proving negligence in court is 1) not an easy task; 2) it takes a lot of courtroom-level evidence; and 3) it must actually convince a jury that the perpetrator must be held to account. This process of getting from accident to proved-up case takes a lawyer with years of experience. A story---no matter how sad---is not enough.
Give Grossman Law Offices a Call:
Our attorneys can answer whatever questions you might have. We have over 25 years of experience handling personal injury claims. We have experienced Texas attorneys available to speak with you 24/7. Give us a call today:(855) 326-0000.
Other articles about personal injury cases that may be helpful:
- What are common negligence arguments under Texas law?
- What are the elements of a negligence case?
- What damages are available in a personal injury case?