What Does “Modified Comparative Fault” Mean?

When an auto accident happens, most people can easily blame one driver for being responsible for the accident. After all, it’s usually very clear whether or not a driver has violated the rules of the road, drove recklessly, or caused the accident in some other way. But car accident attorneys in Houston, TX know that assigning blame in an auto accident isn’t necessarily so black and white.

What Does “Modified Comparative Fault” Mean?

Texas supports a legal doctrine called comparative fault, which is a law that essentially says each person involved in an accident is responsible for their percentage of fault. A pure comparative fault enables plaintiffs to still recover damages from an accident, even if they are partly responsible for the accident. This law can often help with insurance settlements.  

A modified comparative fault is slightly different. In this case, the percentage of fault will determine how much money you can recover from damages. In general, people involved in an auto accident must be less than 50 percent at fault for the accident in order to qualify for recovery money from a settlement, either with the other driver or the insurance company. A modified comparative fault will still allow a car accident victim to recover a significant portion of their settlement.

Is a Modified Comparative Fault Case Automatic?

No. Although Texas is a comparative fault state, a comparative fault or modified comparative fault lawsuit is not automatic. This type of lawsuit and settlement arrangement is only triggered when the other victim in a car accident tries to pin part of the blame for the accident on you. It’s also common for an insurance company to try to shift the blame of the accident onto your shoulders to get out of paying a full settlement.

When this happens, your legal representative will make moves to ensure you qualify for modified comparative fault. Even if your lawsuit is successful, you will still be awarded a portion of the settlement you are entitled to, which pays for damages, medical bills, and loss of wages associated with the accident.

Understanding Basic Comparative Fault

Basic comparative fault is a doctrine that suggests any auto accident assigns a certain percentage of blame to each driver based on evidence for how carelessly they acted. In general, the percentage of this blame is assessed based on evidence, statements from witnesses, and other verifiable information so that the percentage of fault is fair.

When a driver is more at fault for an accident, they will recover less money for damages; if a driver is less at fault, they will be awarded more money. Usually, comparative fault happens when the case involves an injury to one or both drivers. It’s common for the most at-fault driver to try and shift some of the blame to the other driver to pay less for a settlement at the end of the case.

The Texas 51 Percent Rule

In Texas, the specific legal doctrine for comparative fault is “modified”, which has a few additional rules. The biggest difference between comparative fault and the modified comparative fault is a rule called the 51 Percent Rule. Essentially, this rule says that no person involved in a lawsuit can receive a monetary reward for damages if they are proven to be responsible for 51 percent or more of the accident.

This means that if you are partially responsible for an accident, you will need to prove that you are 51 percent or less responsible for the accident. If you are more than 51 percent at fault for the accident, then you will not receive any money at all from the settlement. This type of case is based on a sliding scale, which means the amount of money you will be awarded will depend directly on how much percentage you are at fault for the case. Ideally, the evidence should suggest that you are significantly less at fault for the accident than the other driver.

How Is Fault Determined?

The fault for any car accident is determined by evidence and calculated by the actions each driver took right before the accident happened. This will create a timeline of events that will highlight which driver contributed the most to the accident. Evidence like witness testimony, damages to the vehicle, and video footage create a more accurate accounting of events. Other evidence may include:

  • Police reports
  • Accident reconstruction and diagrams
  • Pictures from the accident
  • Weather records
  • Road condition records
  • Cell phone records

In particular, your case will look at any evidence of negligent or reckless driving to determine which driver is more at fault for the accident. Evidence of dangerous driving is the most straightforward way to determine which driver contributed the most to the accident. Some dangerous driving behaviors include:

  • Speeding
  • Ignoring traffic signs
  • Not abiding by the rules of the road
  • Reckless speed in wet or icy weather
  • Texting while driving
  • Unsafe driving maneuvers
  • Failure to signal
  • Driving under the influence

Can You Settle a Modified Comparative Fault Case By Yourself?

It’s not likely that you will be able to handle this type of case by yourself. Understanding the specific rules and calculations of this type of lawsuit requires legal expertise, especially when you are dealing with an opposing legal team or insurance company that is determined to place most of the blame for the accident on you.

This is especially true if you’ve been injured in the accident and you are still recovering from your injuries. Many people suffer catastrophic or life-altering injuries from a car accident, which can result in brain damage, paralysis, disability, and more. After an accident, you should be focused on recovery, not tricky legal doctrines that can only be handled by experts.

How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help You?

A car accident attorney will advocate for you on your behalf while you are recovering. From gathering evidence for your case to advocating for your interests, your legal representative will always act with your best interests in mind. Hiring legal help for a car accident with a modified comparative fault case can be immensely helpful, particularly because these cases can very quickly become complicated.

Your car accident attorney will have nuanced knowledge to help prove your case. For example, your attorney will understand the rules of the road in Texas, which can pinpoint who is most at fault for the accident. If a commercial or public vehicle was involved in your accident, then special knowledge of the laws related to these vehicles will be necessary. Finally, your lawyer will be able to evaluate and calculate the lasting monetary damage of your injury, which will help secure the settlement you are entitled to.

Proving fault in an auto accident is difficult, especially when a modified comparative fault legal doctrine is involved. It’s in your best interests to hire a legal representative to help you build and fight for your fair settlement. For this type of case, you will need to prove that you are less than 52 percent at fault for the accident, which can be supported by evidence related to the accident. Please contact Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner in Houston, TX today to learn more about this type of case.