Do Traffic Tickets Prove Who Caused a Car Accident?
Do traffic tickets prove fault in car accidents? The short answer is “No.” Traffic tickets given to a party in an auto accident don’t automatically prove that the one who got the ticket is at fault. It may help to prove it, but that depends on a few things we’ll talk about here.
If a car accident ends up as a lawsuit, it’s going to be a negligence suit Texas is an “at-fault” state, so the question for the jury is always, “Whose fault was the accident?”
Deciding that takes answering the following questions:
- Did the other driver have a duty, like obeying the speed limit?
- Did the other driver fail to perform (breach) that duty?
- Is the breach actually the cause of your injury?
- Are you actually injured?
You’d think that a traffic ticket would be instant proof of fault, right? After all, the other driver got a ticket, which means they broke the law. So they must be at fault. If that’s your final answer, you’re half right.
There’s another legal concept called negligence per se or negligence as a matter of law. This just means that part of the negligent act was breaking the law, especially if the law was meant to protect people like you, the injured party. The law creates the duty from question one above.
I can hear you asking: “If the law creates the duty and the guy got a ticket, doesn’t that prove he breached the duty?” Maybe.
Sometimes, the breach is excused. For example, if the other driver passed out due to a heart attack, the breach may be excused. Proving fault in such cases is hard, which is why it’s good to have an experienced lawyer on your side. If the breach is not excused, the jury has to keep trying to figure out fault.
The traffic ticket is evidence. But, not all evidence can be used. Texas’ Rules of Evidence cover what evidence can and can’t be used in court. Some items, like police reports, are what the rules call “hearsay” and hearsay is not often allowed as evidence.
Rule 801 defines hearsay. It is something said or written by someone who isn’t part of the accident that is offered as evidence of what really happened. Since the police officer wasn’t part of the accident and may not have even been at the scene until after the accident, a lot of what they have to say is hearsay.
There are always exceptions to every rule, though.
One exception is a guilty plea in open court. If the ticketed driver shows up in traffic or criminal court and “knowingly and voluntarily pleads guilty” to the traffic violation, the ticket may be used as evidence in any civil lawsuit that comes from the driver’s criminal act of breaking the law. The court records of the hearing where the driver plead guilty can be used, too. This means if you sue the driver after he pleads guilty to the violation, you can use that ticket as evidence.
If the ticket is allowed, then a Texas Supreme Court ruling makes the jury’s job a bit easier. The Court said that negligence per se is a part of tort law, where the state’s lawmakers have set the level of duty expected of people. So the question for the jury is whether the other driver broke the law. (This is a combination of questions one & two above).
If the ticket is allowed as evidence, the jury can go on to answer questions three and four, because the ticket answered the first two questions.