If you've been involved in a car accident in Texas, a number of state laws (as well as the state's car insurance rules) are sure to come into play.
Imagine you're driving on a Texas highway when a car swerves into your lane and hits you head-on. You're badly injured and your total losses ("damages" in legalese) add up to $100,000. So you make a claim against the other driver's insurance—or even file a lawsuit.
In Texas, as in most states, a driver who is 100% to blame for an accident is often responsible for 100% of proven damages. (Note that this is usually where car insurance coverage comes in, to relieve some or all of this financial burden, depending on the extent of damages and the at-fault driver's coverage limits.)
But what if you were in a car accident and blame wasn't so obvious? How will fault for the car accident be decided, and how will that affect the amount of compensation you get? What role does insurance play? What other Texas laws could impact your injury claim?
Texas drivers must prove they can take financial responsibility for any losses they cause to others in a car accident. Most drivers comply with this rule by buying liability car insurance that meets minimum coverage requirements under Texas law.
To learn more about "financial responsibility" rules (including other ways to comply with these rules beyond buying car insurance), optional insurance coverage that might make sense for Texas drivers, and more, check out Texas Car Insurance Requirements.
One last note on car insurance: You must present proof of financial responsibility when asked to do so by a Texas law enforcement officer, or when you've been in an accident in the state.
In Texas, you're legally required to report an accident if it causes an injury or death, or if the crash damages a vehicle so badly it can't be safely driven. You must use "the quickest means of communication" to either call the local police if the accident happened in a municipality or the sheriff's office if it happened outside of city limits. (Tex. Trans. Code §550.026.)
The agency that comes to the scene normally submits an accident report to the Texas Department of Transportation.
These reports aren't usually admissible in court, but insurance adjusters and attorneys use them when negotiating out-of-court car accident settlements, especially when the report contains law enforcement opinions or witness statements about who was at fault. (Learn more about how police reports are used in car accident cases.)
Regardless of the details of your crash—whether there were injuries or vehicle damage—it's very likely your insurance policy requires you to report any accident that might trigger coverage to your auto insurance company within a specific timeline. (if you fail to report it the company could even deny coverage.) Your insurer will then begin an investigation, especially if a claim has been filed by anyone else involved in the crash. (Learn more about how insurance companies investigate car accidents.)
For efficiency and fairness, states place deadlines called "statutes of limitations" on the right to file lawsuits. In Texas, the deadline to sue for injuries and damages from an auto accident is typically two years from the date of the accident. (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003.) If you file beyond that deadline, the court will almost certainly dismiss your case and you'll lose your legal right to recover any compensation in connection with the crash.
Certain circumstances can freeze (or "toll") the statute of limitations clock in Texas. In other words, the filing deadline gets extended by however long the limitations period was tolled. For example:
So, if the plaintiff was exactly 17 years old at the time of the crash or the defendant left the state immediately after the crash and stayed away for exactly one year, the plaintiff would probably have three years to file a lawsuit.
If someone else caused your car accident, you can recover damages for losses such as:
Realistically, your financial recovery might be capped by whatever insurance coverage is available, which usually depends on the at-fault driver's policy.
If the other driver's coverage limits (for instance, 30/60/25) won't cover your losses, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or personal injury protection / medical payments coverage—if you have them—can bridge the gap between the at-fault driver's coverage and your total losses. Beyond that, you must recover money from the at-fault driver personally, which can be challenging.
Most car accident cases settle rather than going to trial. But lawyers for both sides (and insurance adjusters) typically consider what would happen at a trial when deciding whether and how to settle a case.
If your Texas car accident lawsuit makes it all the way to trial, the judge or jury will first calculate the total amount of your damages. Those damages will include medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering." Then the judge or jury will assign a percentage of blame (or "fault") to each party.
Under the concept of "comparative fault," your damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to your share of responsibility. For instance, if you were speeding when your accident happened, a judge or jury might decide that you were 20% responsible for your injuries. Taking 20% away from the 100% you would have gotten if you were totally blameless, you would get 80% of the damages amount.
But what if fault is a close call in your case? Under Texas law, there's a chance you might not be entitled to any compensation from the other side. That's because Texas follows a "modified comparative fault" rule. Under that rule, if you are found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident, you are barred from recovering anything at all from another party.
Remember, your car accident case is almost certain to settle before trial, but Texas's modified comparative fault rule is sure to be in the minds of insurance adjusters and attorneys as the settlement offers and counter-offers are volleyed back and forth. So, if you bear a sizable amount of fault for the accident, don't be surprised if your final settlement figure reflects that.
Whether you're ready to pursue your car accident claim or just want to learn more, it normally makes sense to discuss your situation with a lawyer. Use the features on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer near you, or check out our guide to hiring and working with a car accident lawyer.