Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

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According to the Texas Department of Transportation, each year 17,500 people are seriously injured in Texas car accidents. Human nature is such that most of us operate under the assumption that we will never be included in that statistic. However, the reality is that a car accident occurs in Texas every 59 seconds, and someone is injured in an accident nearly every two minutes.

Knowing what to do in the aftermath of a serious car accident is essential knowledge that all drivers should possess. The moments after a car accident are incredibly stressful, and many motorists go into autopilot mode, relying on their instincts rather than thinking through the situation as they usually would. Thus, it is important that Texas motorists commit the following essential “to dos” to memory.

  1. Stop, even if it wasn’t your fault – Even in the event of a minor accident, stop to evaluate the damage. The body has a remarkable way of masking pain in the moments immediately following a traumatic event. Motorists who brush off a minor accident may wake up a few days later with significant pain or other related issues.
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Those who have been involved in a Texas car accident understand that the road to recovery entails more than just the healing of physical wounds. Being involved in a serious car accident takes an emotional toll on accident victims for several reasons, including the stress and potential difficulties that an accident victim may encounter when trying to obtain fair compensation for their injuries.

All drivers in Texas are required to maintain a certain amount of car insurance. Specifically, motorists must obtain a policy with coverage for at least $30,000 per person ($60,000 per accident) and $25,000 for personal property. These limits refer to the amount that the insurance company will cover for an accident caused by the insured.

Many Texas car accidents, however, result in damages far in excess of these limits. In these cases, an injured motorist may file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company as well as with their own insurance company, under the underinsured motorist (UIM) provision.

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Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed against The Weather Channel based on a 2017 Texas car accident that claimed the lives of all three men involved. According to a recent news report, the lawsuit seeks $125 million for the wrongful death of the accident victim, and was filed against The Weather Channel because the accident was allegedly caused by two of its employees.

Back in March of 2017, two storm chasers were filming footage for The Weather Channel show, “Storm Wranglers.” According to the plaintiff’s complaint, their vehicle ran a stop sign and collided with the vehicle of a 25-year-old storm spotter who was employed by the National Weather Service. At the time of the accident, it is claimed that the men were traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour. The force from the crash propelled the satellite equipment atop one of the vehicles over a five-foot fence, ultimately landing 150 feet away from the scene of the accident. All three men died as a result of the collision.

Family members of the deceased accident victim filed a case against The Weather Channel, claiming that the two men had a “well-documented history of dangerous behavior behind the wheel” that the Channel ignored and may have even encouraged. Family members claimed that The Weather Channel had knowledge of the men’s poor driving habits and encouraged them to run stop signs and violate other traffic laws to obtain exciting footage that could be included in the show. The complaint further alleges that The Weather Channel had ample opportunity to replace the men with “competent, law-abiding” drivers, but failed to do so.

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One of the first considerations in a Texas car accident case is which of the parties involved should be named as defendants. This is an important decision for several reasons. First, failing to name a potentially liable party could result in the named defendants shifting blame onto the unnamed party. Second, given the low insurance requirements in Texas, an accident victim can very easily sustain more serious injuries than can be recovered under a single insurance policy.

Of course, only parties that were potentially negligent can be named in a Texas personal injury case. However, it is a common misconception that the at-fault driver is the only negligent party. In many cases, an at-fault driver was not the owner of the vehicle involved in the accident and was permitted to use the vehicle by a friend, family member, or employer. This is where the doctrine of negligent entrustment comes in.

The doctrine of negligent entrustment allows an injury victim to hold the owner of a vehicle liable for negligently allowing another person to use the vehicle. Under Texas case law, a plaintiff must be able to establish:

  • The owner entrusted the vehicle to the driver;
  • The driver was unlicensed, reckless, or incompetent;
  • The owner knew the driver was unlicensed, reckless, or incompetent;
  • The driver was negligent; and
  • The driver’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

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In some Texas car accident cases, one or more drivers involved in the accident may be issued a traffic citation, causing some to wonder what impact that could have on a subsequent personal injury claim. Under Texas law, a motor vehicle driver must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances presented. This means that the level of care that is required in ordinary circumstances may not be sufficient in other situations. For example, the reasonable care required may be different when it is raining or snowing, or while driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

If a driver is issued a citation for a traffic violation, some evidence concerning the violation may be able to be used in a Texas personal injury claim. If a driver violates a traffic law or similar statute, evidence of that violation may constitute negligence per se, or negligence as a matter of law. However, the violation of a statute does not always mean there will be a finding of negligence per se. If the court determines that the defendant was negligent per se, then the jury will be instructed that is the case and the only issues for the jury to determine are causation and damages.

Texas courts consider various factors in determining whether a violation of the statute constitutes per se liability, including whether the plaintiff’s injury is due to a direct or indirect violation of the statute, and whether the statute would impose liability without fault.

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Determining fault in a Texas car accident can be a very complex matter, depending on the surrounding circumstances. While some accidents involve few parties and present straightforward issues, other cases involve complex fact patterns that require judges and juries to consider and apply numerous legal doctrines.

One of the more common issues that can arise in a Texas personal injury lawsuit that may make the case more complicated is the presence of multiple parties, each of which shares some amount of fault in causing an accident. A common example of this type of case is a Texas chain reaction accident.

In these cases, Texas courts apply what is commonly known as the doctrine of comparative fault. In Texas, however, the doctrine is referred to as “proportionate liability.” Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code discusses proportionate liability and how it applies in Texas personal injury cases.

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Texas plaintiffs can have difficulty bringing claims against a governmental entity due to governmental immunity. However, there are many exceptions to governmental immunity that allow plaintiffs to bring claims against governmental entities. In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court upheld a claim against the Texas Department of Transportation after the plaintiff was involved in a car accident.

The plaintiff was driving a tractor-trailer on Highway 83 traveling toward Laredo. Another tractor-trailer stopped in front him, and he slowed and went onto the shoulder to avoid colliding with the tractor-trailer. The plaintiff hit an 8 ¾ inch drop-off between the shoulder and the ground. One of the truck’s tires went onto the ground and as the plaintiff tried to bring the tire back onto the shoulder, the tire popped, causing the tractor-trailer to tip over onto its side. The plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the Texas Department of Transportation, but the Department argued that it was immune from suit. A jury found the Department was negligent, and the court awarded the plaintiff $250,000 in damages. The Department appealed the decision, arguing again it was immune from suit.

Governmental Immunity under Texas Law

Governmental immunity protects the political subdivisions of the state from suit, such as counties, cities, and school districts. A Texas governmental entity is normally immune from lawsuit unless specifically waived under Texas law. The plaintiff has the burden of showing how immunity has been waived. Governmental immunity is waived for certain claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case requiring the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case against the defendant city should proceed toward trial over the city’s motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the city claimed it was entitled to government immunity because it did not have notice of the fallen stop sign that allegedly caused the accident in which the plaintiff was injured. Ultimately, the court rejected the city’s argument and denied its motion because there were disputed facts regarding the applicability of immunity in the case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when she was side-swiped while driving through an intersection in Houston. The plaintiff was traveling northbound at the time of the accident. At this specific intersection, traffic traveling in the east-west direction did not have a stop sign. There was a stop sign for both northbound and southbound traffic, which is where the dispute between the parties arose.

After the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, claiming it was liable for her injuries because the stop sign for northbound traffic had been knocked over and was lying on the ground after the accident. The city claimed that the sign was not knocked down, and was visible at the time of the accident.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case discussing whether the plaintiff’s case against an allegedly negligent driver’s employer should proceed to trial where the accident occurred while the employee was not on-the-clock. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant employer’s no-evidence motion was properly granted because the plaintiff could not establish that the driver was acting in the performance of his duties as an employee of the defendant at the time of the accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when a truck collided with his vehicle. The plaintiff initially filed a lawsuit against the driver, but later withdrew that case after filing a lawsuit against the driver’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the employer was vicariously liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The evidence showed that the employee had recently left the work site for the day, and was giving a co-worker a ride back to his hotel. On the way back from the job site, the employee stopped to show his co-worker the site of a future job. As the employee turned into the future job site, he struck the plaintiff’s car. It was also established that the defendant paid for the employee’s gas.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a case that was filed against several parties, including the city of Austin, Texas, following a fatal traffic accident that occurred during the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival. According to the court’s opinion, a drunk driver who was fleeing police drove through a block that had been closed off for the festival, killing four people. One of the victim’s family members filed a Texas wrongful death claim against the city and the festival organizers, claiming that the defendants failed to adequately block off the street to protect festival-goers.

The court dismissed each of the plaintiff’s claims against each of the defendants. First, the court determined that the family failed to show that the festival organizers controlled the area where the victim was killed. A city generally owns the public roads, but the family alleged that the festival organizers had a city permit that made it the occupier of the area where the driver was killed. However, the court pointed out that the right-of-way permit, which was attached as an exhibit, stated that all traffic controls had to be provided “in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.” The city-approved traffic control plan stated that the block was open to regular vehicular traffic. Therefore, the city still controlled the street, and the festival organizers had no duty to act.

Next, the court went on to determine that the city was immune from liability. Under Texas law, a municipality is generally immune from suit under the longstanding principles of governmental immunity. However, while a city is immune for torts that are committed while in the “performance of its governmental functions,” it is not immune for torts “committed in the performance of its proprietary functions.”

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