I was hit from behind. Is it true that it's always the person who hit from behind who is at fault for the accident?
Most people would answer this question with a loud, “Yes!” They would only be right in certain cases, especially in Texas. We’re an “at-fault” state, which means that the driver who is at fault is the one who must pay for all the damages and injuries they caused.
We also have what’s called modified comparative negligence. This is a legal term that means “more than one person can be at fault for an accident.”
If you’re 51% at fault for an accident, you lose all chances of getting any money awards for your injuries. If you’re 50% or less at fault, you can get a money award up to the percentage of the other driver’s fault.
You may be wondering how you, the rear-ended driver, could share in the fault. After all, the other driver hit you from behind! First, let’s look at what Texas law says about rear-end crashes.
Section 545.062 of the Texas Transportation Code covers the following distance between cars. Following distance - or not enough of it - is often the cause of rear-end crashes. Other causes are speeding, distracted driving, texting, drunk driving and not paying attention. The law says:
“An operator shall, if following another vehicle, maintain an assured clear distance between the two vehicles so that, considering the speed of the vehicles, traffic, and the conditions of the highway, the operator can safely stop without colliding with the preceding vehicle or veering into another vehicle, object, or person on or near the highway.”
In other words, you need to leave enough space between your car and the one ahead of you so you can stop safely.
In another article, we talk about traffic tickets as proof of fault. The rear-ending driver may get a ticket, which shows he’s at fault for breaking the traffic law, but that ticket may not prove his negligence in court.
In most cases, the rear-ending driver will be the one at fault. Back to the question of how you could be at fault.
Here are just some of the ways you could share fault:
- Your brake lights don’t work, so the rear-ending driver had not notice you were stopping;
- You stop on a dime to make a turn, but don’t turn;
- You’re at a stop light and throw your car into reverse for some reason;
- You stop to check a map, etc. without pulling off the road and turning on your hazard lights.
There are some legal defenses you can use that might reduce or do away with your share of fault. Let’s take a look at them.
A Texas Supreme Court case, Dillard v. Texas Electric Cooperative, held that some accidents just can’t be avoided and aren’t anyone’s fault. An example of an unavoidable accident is when you hit an animal in the road and someone behind you rear-ends you. This is a defense to negligence if you’re being sued, so you still need to convince the jury that the accident couldn’t be avoided. If the jury is on your side, you’re off the hook.
This one is a close cousin to the unavoidable accident defense. Again, you have to get the jury on your side for this to work. The sudden emergency defense could be helpful if you had an unforeseen heart attack (meaning you weren’t already having one and trying to drive yourself to the hospital) and caused an accident.
Here are the things you have to show the jury to prove a sudden emergency:
- There was an emergency;
- That it was unforeseeable and sudden and not something you caused;
- That you acted the same way a reasonably careful person would have, but the accident happened anyway.
Whether you’re the one hit or the one who rear-ended someone, if you’ve been in a rear-end crash, call Justinian and Associates today.