Proving Liability in a Texas Motor Vehicle Accident

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Motor vehicle accidents comprise a large proportion of personal injury cases. Determining which party is liable for the accident requires a careful analysis of the claim. Before a party is entitled to receive compensation for a motor vehicle accident, the plaintiff must be able to show specific elements.


Motor vehicle accidents in Texas and other jurisdictions may be caused by a variety of reasons, including driver impairment, inattention, speeding or distracted driving. The plaintiff has the burden of establishing the legal elements in order to recover compensation for the accident.


Most vehicle accident claims arise out of the negligent actions of one or more parties. The first element of a negligence claim is a duty. This is the legal responsibility of one party to act a certain way toward another party. By virtue of driving on the same roadways, all drivers have the legal duty to obey the laws and drive in a reasonable manner that does not place other drivers or people on the roadway at an unreasonable risk of harm.

Based on the specific circumstances of the case, there may be other relevant duties that apply. For example, employers have certain duties toward their employees and others. An employer may be liable for the actions of its employees when those actions are performed within the scope of their employment. Governmental and private entities also have the duty to maintain roadways.

The owner of the vehicle driven by the liable party may also share liability for the accident under the theory of negligent entrustment. This legal theory follows a similar pattern as a negligence claim and is based on the idea that the owner knew or reasonably should have known that the person to whom he or she entrusted the vehicle was unlicensed, reckless or incompetent.

In some cases, more than one party may be liable for the accident. They may be responsible for paying damages that are equal to their proportionate share in the liability of the accident.

Breach of Duty

The next element that the plaintiff must show is that the other driver or party breached the relevant duty. This means that the other party did something wrong. This is often expressed in Texas cases as the party failing to use ordinary care, meaning that the party failed to exercise the ordinary prudence that a reasonable person in the same circumstance would have exercised. Some examples of a breach of duty may include:

• Failing to keep a proper look out
• Following too closely behind another motorist
• Failing to control a vehicle properly
• Failing to obey the right-of-way
• Speeding
• Failing to obey stoplights or stop signs
• Failing to brake
• Driving while impaired
• Driving too slowly

It is not enough to show that the driver made a mistake. Instead, the plaintiff must be able to link the defendant’s breach of duty with causing the accident. In legal terms, this is conveyed as a “but for clause.” For example, but for the defendant speeding, the motor vehicle accident would not have occurred.


The final element is damages. This is the injury that the victim suffered. If the accident resulted in no damages, there is no legal claim for relief. However, this is highly unlikely in most motor vehicle accident cases. Again, the damages must be linked to the breach of duty. Damages that may be available in a Texas motor vehicle accident case include:

• Property damage
• Lost wages
• Loss of future earning capacity
• Past medical expenses
• Anticipated future medical expenses
• Physical impairment or disfigurement
• Pain and suffering
• Mental anguish
• Loss of consortium
• Loss of household services

When a party’s actions are particularly egregious, exemplary damages may be pursued.
Legal Assistance
Individuals who are involved in Texas motor vehicle accidents may choose to consult with a personal injury attorney who can explain the process of filing a civil claim and pursuing compensation for the injuries that they have suffered.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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