Texas Car Accident Laws

An in-depth look at a driver's obligations after a car accident in Texas, the state's comparative negligence rules, and more.

By , J.D.
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  • After a traffic accident in Texas, you may be wondering about your rights and responsibilities, including your options for holding the at-fault driver financially responsible for your losses. This article discusses a few Texas laws that could have a big impact on your case, including:

    • the statute governing the circumstances where you're required to report a car accident to law enforcement
    • the two-year deadline for the filing of most car accident lawsuits in Texas's civil court system, and
    • Texas's "modified comparative fault" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant's level of responsibility for causing the accident is less than that of the other party (or parties) involved.

    That's the overview in Texas. Now, let's look at the specifics.

    Reporting a Car Accident in Texas

    Under Texas Transportation Code section 550.026, the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident must immediately ("by the quickest means of communication") report the accident to the local police department (if the accident occurred in a municipality) or to the local sheriff's office (if the crash occurred outside a municipality) of the crash resulted in:

    • injury or death of any person, or
    • damage to a vehicle to the extent that it cannot be safely driven from the scene.

    Should I Report the Accident to My Car Insurance Company?

    States do not generally have laws on whether (or when) policyholders who get into a car accident should report the crash to their car insurance company, and Texas is no exception.

    However, every automobile insurance contract requires the policyholder to report a car accident to the insurer very soon after the fact. The sooner the insurer knows about the accident, the sooner it can start trying to investigate or defend a claim. If the insured fails to report an accident within a reasonable time, the insurer may deny coverage in connection with the crash. An insurance company could define a "reasonable period of time" as being as little as a day or two after the car accident, depending on the circumstances.

    Bottom line: Even if your car accident was minor and did not rise to the level of a "reportable accident" in Texas, you still want to report it to your automobile insurer just to make sure that the carrier will provide coverage for the accident if you should need it. Learn more about contacting your car insurance company after an accident.

    Texas Car Accident Statute of Limitations

    A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on a potential plaintiff's right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file. In Texas, most car accident lawsuits need to be filed within two years of the date of the crash. Get the details on the Texas car accident statute of limitations.

    Texas's Comparative Negligence Rule in Car Accident Cases

    If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: The other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault?

    Texas follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when more than one party is found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.

    For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under Texas's comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.

    One important note: Since Texas is a "modified" comparative fault state, you will receive nothing at all if you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the crash. This is different from the rule in "pure" comparative fault states, where you can recover damages when you're more at fault than the other party. Bottom line: In Texas, you must be no more than 50 percent at fault in order to recover damages from any other at-fault party after a car accident.

    Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Texas judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

    Texas Car Insurance Rules

    Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Texas, like most states, requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage—or otherwise demonstrate financial responsibility in case an accident occurs—in order to operate the vehicle legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Texas auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case. For details, read up on Texas car insurance rules and requirements.

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