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Proportionate responsibility in Texas personal injury law: an overview.

As in any conflict, it’s not always simple determining who was at fault in a personal injury case. Occasionally, it’s pretty black-and-white that the person who hurt you was 100% responsible for the accident. But Texas law understands the reality that there are potentially other parties who contributed to your accident, and that you yourself might have played a role in the incident.

Below, we’re going explain the different approaches to how courts determine how to apportion fault and damages, as well as link you to pages with more thorough explanations for each type.

The basics of proportionate responsibility.

If you go to lunch with a friend, once the check comes the natural thing to do is to chip in roughly what your meal cost. If you had a sandwich and a soda, it’s not fair to split the tab 50/50 with your friend who had huge steak, dessert, and three cocktails.

The law applies the same principle in injury cases. It’s only just to require defendants to only pay what percentage the jury decides the defendant is truly responsible for. Many wonder how juries come to a precise number—after all, we’ve seen juries conclude Defendant 1 is 33% responsible, and Defendant 2 is 50% responsible. The bottom line is that juries have to weigh the testimony and evidence, and then simply come to as close an approximation of responsibility as possible. It often looks like this:

  • A man who’d had a little too much to drink walks into a grocery store. He doesn’t see a puddle of of spilled soda, slips, and falls. He sues the store under a premises liability theory. The defendant store will argue that, even if they’re somewhat responsible for the incident, the man’s intoxication was in part the cause of the incident.

Proportionate responsibility type 1: Contributory negligence.

In a few states, courts will completely shut your case down if the jury puts even 1% of fault on you. “Contributory negligence” is the doctrine that holds that victims must come to court with “clean hands,” and if they had anything at all to do with the accident, their case will be dismissed entirely. This represents the most restrictive type of comparative fault.

Proportionate responsibility type 2: comparative negligence.

On the other end of the spectrum are states that follow “comparative negligence.” Under this doctrine, so long as the defendant was at least 1% responsible, the case stays in court—but the award gets proportionally reduced by the amount the plaintiff is found responsible for the accident. Assuming, for example, that the jury believes that the plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages and the defendant was only 30% at fault, then the plaintiff’s award will only be $30,000.

Proportionate responsibility type 3: modified comparative fault.

In between the above two, we have “modified comparative fault.” Here, a plaintiff’s negligence will proportionally reduce his or her award up to 50%. But when a jury decides that the plaintiff is 51% or more responsible for the incident, the plaintiff receives nothing. This is the system Texas uses.

Proportionate responsibility type 4: joint and several liability.

In cases where there are multiple defendants, juries must decide who is responsible for what. Let’s say there is a car accident where a driver negligently hurt you. However, the jury finds that the defendant’s car also suffered from manufacturing defects and thus finds the manufacturer liable, too. If you’ve got $100,000 in damages and the jury splits responsibility 50/50 between the other driver and the auto manufacturer, each defendant would plainly owe you $50,000. But what happens if the driver doesn’t have $50,000?

Under the basic doctrine of joint and several liability, any parties who played a role in an accident are liable for 100% of your damages. That means that under the traditional rule, you could get all of your damages paid by any defendant who was only 1% responsible for the incident. However, in Texas, one of several defendants can be liable for the full measure of your damages for one or both of two reasons: 1) the defendant acted intentionally; and/or 2) the defendant is 51% or more responsible for the incident.

You need the right lawyer on your team to make the law work for you.

Defendants try to use every trick in the book to reduce the value of your claim. Call the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices to get a completely free consultation at (855) 326-0000 now.


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