You've had several close calls over the years, and even a fender bender or two, but none of it prepared you for the emotional shock of being stranded on the shoulder of I-30 next to your wrecked vehicle with what feel like broken ribs, wondering how long the ambulance will take to arrive. What should you do or say, and how will it affect your legal rights and responsibilities? Accident law is not excessively complicated, but you need straight answers and FindLaw delivers with this guide to your Fort Worth car accident.
First Things First
The first step after an accident is to assess the situation and call for medical assistance if needed. Don't drive away from the scene or else you risk criminal liability as a hit-and-run driver. Instead, pull your vehicle over to a safe spot that doesn't obstruct traffic and switch your hazards on.
Next, Texas law requires you to exchange certain information with all other parties involved in the accident. Specifically, you need to provide names, addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers, tag numbers and insurance information. You'd be smart to jot down a detailed description of the vehicles and parties involved, and the weather and road conditions at the time of the accident. Pictures even better, so put that camera phone to good use.
If there were any witnesses, be sure to get their names and addresses, too. However, it is best for your case if you don't apologize or admit fault for causing or contributing to the accident, as these statements can be used against you in court.
If the accident resulted in death, injury or more than $1,000 in property damage, and the police were not called to the scene to create an accident report, you must file a Crash Report, Form CR-2 with the Texas Department of Transportation within ten days of the accident. You can mail the completed form to:
Texas Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 149349
Austin, TX 78714
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist to store in your glove box just in case?
Like most states, Texas has a "fault" system for determining financial liability stemming from an accident. Texas drivers are required to carry auto liability insurance, which pays to repair or replace the other driver's car and pays other people's medical expenses when they are at fault in an accident.
To meet the state's financial responsibility law, Texas drivers must purchase insurance coverage of at least $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident. If your coverage is not enough to pay all of the other driver's costs, the other driver could sue you personally to collect the difference.
Types of Lawsuits
The most common lawsuit following an auto accident is negligence. Negligence governs accidentally caused injuries. You must show that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances.
For serious accidents involving a fatality, the deceased individual's family members may be able to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit aims to recover lost wages, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you could try suing the vehicle manufacturer themselves in a products liability lawsuit. To succeed, you must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused the accident. Proving a defect usually requires the analysis of an automotive expert, and the case can get quite technical.
It takes two to tango, as they say. For situations where both parties are partially responsible for causing the accident, the comparative negligence doctrine comes into play. Under the Texas proportionate responsibility law, each party is assigned "fault", and the plaintiff's recovery is reduced in proportion to his or her responsibility. For example, if your vehicle requires $1000 to repair as a result of the accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900.
Texas has added a slight twist to the comparative negligence rule called the "51% rule," which provides that a driver found to be more than 50% responsible for an accident cannot recover at all. Note that a driver exactly 50% (or less) at fault may recover, but their damages would be diminished by the degree of their fault.
Filing a Lawsuit
All you need to file a lawsuit is a civil case information sheet and a complaint, which is a brief document that explains the basis for your lawsuit, names the people you are suing and requests monetary compensation.
You can file a lawsuit at the Tarrant County Courthouse, located at 100 W. Weatherford St. The District Court handles all cases worth over $200, but if your claim is worth less than $10,000 you may instead choose the less formal small claims court.
Drafting these documents, gathering evidence and negotiating a settlement may not be straightforward and can be confusing at times. Instead of going it alone you may want to schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney (many do this for free). This type of lawyer almost always works on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your recovery. In other words you pay nothing up front, and they don't get paid until you win.
Statute of Limitations
Almost all lawsuits have a hidden clock that counts down the time you have to file a lawsuit called the statute of limitations. The statutory period for filing most property damage and personal injury claims in Texas is two years. This means that you have up to two years from the date of the accident or injury occurred to file your lawsuit, or else the judge will dismiss your lawsuit regardless of its strength.
For more general information, feel free to check out FindLaw's section on accident law basics. For questions specific to your case, you may wish to chat with a local personal injury or car accident attorney in your area.