Hurt in an auto accident? Call Ronald A. Ramos for a free consultation. Ensure justice, and get fair compensation.
Have you been injured or incurred serious damages as a result of a car accident? Whether you suffered debilitating physical injuries after an underinsured driver veered into your lane, or a complicated collision totaled your car and led to accusations and counteraccusations, let experienced Laredo personal injury lawyer Ronald A. Ramos help you win the fair compensation you deserve.
Understanding Auto Accident Injuries
If you were involved in a car accident, there is a one-in-three chance that you or someone else involved will be injured. The most common injuries resulting from car accidents include:
- Bone fractures
- Internal injuries
- Psychological injuries (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD)
- Soft tissue injuries (whiplash, etc.)
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
Immediately after an accident, it’s very important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you don’t think you’ve been injured.
Injuries can differ in many ways, including in severity and onset. Some injuries, like TBI, may take days–even weeks–to be noticeable, and the symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Therefore, you should seek trained medical professionals who can recognize and treat the early signs of injury, so that injuries do not become worse. (And as a practical matter, if you ultimately decide to make a claim to your insurance company or to file a lawsuit, these medical records will help support your case.)
What Factors Influence Compensation Under Texas Law?
Statutes of Limitations
First and foremost, you need to know that you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to make a claim or file a lawsuit. Every state has rules that govern the amount of time you have to file a case in court, after a car accident or other injury. These legal deadlines, known as “statutes of limitations,” are hard and fast, though the amount of time allowed differs from state to state.
In Texas, state law gives you a maximum of two years to file a case for personal injury or property damage related to a car accident. As soon as the accident occurs, the two-year clock starts ticking. Technically, this only applies to cases filed in court, and not to claims filed with your insurance company, but it’s still a good idea to be prompt when filing your insurance claims. It can take a long time for insurance companies to investigate car accidents and negotiate settlements, and two years can go by quickly. If you file your insurance claim as soon as possible, you will still have time to go to court, if settlement negotiations fail. Also, the sooner you file, the more leverage you will have in negotiations with the insurance carrier.
Modified Comparative Fault Rules
Nobody is perfect, and Texas laws acknowledge that. Therefore Texas uses a “modified comparative fault” rule: If you’ve been in a crash where the other driver was mostly responsible for the accident, but you also bear a bit of the blame yourself, you can still collect a portion of your damages. However, this rule applies as long as your share of the fault is 50 percent or less. If you’re found to be more than 50 percent at fault, your damages award drops to zero. This is how Texas’s modified comparative fault rules differ from states with “pure” comparative fault rules. In a “pure” comparative fault state, as long as your fault was under 100 percent, you could still receive some damages.
In general, here’s how it works: Suppose that a jury decides your total losses from an accident amount to $100,000. The evidence shows that the other driver was 80 percent at fault, while you bear 20 percent of the blame. Using Texas’s modified comparative fault rule, you would receive 80 percent of the total damages award, which would be $80,000. This is the total amount of your damages ($100,000) minus the amount equal to your 20 percent share of the responsibility ($20,000).
Even if your case settles before trial, the Texas comparative fault rules will still likely be a factor: The other side will have this principle in mind during settlement negotiations.
Consider these examples:
- Case #1: Sally was cruising down the highway, rocking out to her favorite song—and traveling 15 miles over the speed limit—when Mike sideswiped her, during an illegal lane change. Sally then swerved off the road and hit a median. Sally’s car was totaled, and she suffered a fractured rib that caused her to miss two months of work. Sally brought legal action against Mike’s insurance company seeking $100,000–to cover the cost of her medical treatment, vehicle damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. Although the jury agreed that Sally’s damages did total $100,000, they also determined she was 30 percent at fault, because she had been speeding. As a result, Sally’s total award was reduced by 30% to $70,000.
- Case #2: Doug was driving home from work one evening, lost in thought, going over an argument he’d had earlier that day. He didn’t even notice the 4-way stop sign up ahead. He blew through the intersection without stopping, colliding head-on with Tony, who was making a legal left turn. Doug suffered a neck injury, and his car sustained major damage. Although police officers cited Doug for not stopping, a couple of witnesses at the scene said they saw Tony talking on a cell phone when the accident occurred. In consideration of this fact, the jury found that Doug was 90 percent at fault, and Tony was 10 percent at fault. However, due to Texas’s modified comparative fault rules, Doug is not entitled to any damages at all, because he was more than 50 percent to blame for the accident.
Car Insurance Laws
Similar to the attribution of responsibility in lawsuits, Texas is a “fault” state in the insurance context as well. Texas requires drivers to pay for the accidents they cause, and insurance companies must issue payments according to each party’s degrees of fault.
Therefore, car insurance is mandatory for anyone driving in Texas. When you’re responsible for an accident, your liability insurance will pay to repair or replace the other driver’s car, and your insurance will pay the other people’s medical expenses.
By comparison, in “no-fault” states, an injured driver does not have to prove that the crash was somebody else’s fault before getting compensation. His own insurance company picks up his medical bills, rehabilitation costs and lost wages, up to the amount spent. It’s an easier to be compensated in a “no fault” state, but the tradeoff is the injured person cannot sue the other driver for pain and suffering, emotional distress and inconvenience.
Texas law mandates that drivers have the following basic minimum coverage amounts:
- $30,000 in bodily injury coverage per person in one accident
- $60,000 in bodily injury coverage for all people injured per incident
- $25,000 in property damage coverage per incident
After a car accident, someone who has suffered an injury has three options: First, he can file what’s known as a “first-party claim,” a claim filed with his own auto insurance company. Second, the injured person can seek compensation from the other driver’s insurance company, which is known as a “third-party claim.” (The “second party” is the insurance company itself.)
The injured person’s third option is to go to court and file a lawsuit for monetary damages for injuries, damaged property, pain and suffering, and other losses related to the accident.
Types of Damages
“Damages” is the legal term for the money given to someone as compensation for an injury. When people think of car accident damages, they usually think of the out-of-pocket expenses you might incur as a result of a car accident. Typical damages include payment for:
- Medical bills.In addition to the costs of emergency medical care– such as hospital stay costs, ambulance fees, emergency procedures and imaging–damages could also include payment for longer term costs of coping and healing, including physical therapy, ongoing doctor’s visits and prescription medications.
- Lost work time and productivity. A serious injury may prevent you from being able to work for several months or longer. Some injuries, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), could impede your ability to focus at work, advance in your career and learn new skills. Even if you qualify for and receive workers’ compensation through your employer’s insurance, a Texas car accident lawyer can help you determine how much money you’ve lost in wages and opportunities, and help you pursue additional money beyond workers’ compensation.
- Non-economic damages. When there are bills that need to be paid, wages that need to be replaced, those are considered “economic damages.” But non-economic damages are sometimes available, too. These compensate you for things such as pain and suffering, disability, or loss of companionship that you or a loved one might suffer. It can be difficult to quantify these losses, but it is possible, if you can provide evidence to show that your change in condition (depression, anxiety, pain or other problems) is real, and it resulted from the accident, and not from something else.
- Exemplary damages. Usually, punishing the person at fault isn’t the goal of civil lawsuits. Instead, the damages are solely meant to reimburse the injured person the costs from her suffering. Therefore, damages intended to punish wrongdoing are rare. They are typically awarded in only situations where your injuries were caused by the other driver’s willful act or omission, or gross negligence. In that case, you may be able to recover “exemplary” (or “punitive”) damages, in addition to the other damages. For example, if the other driver drove drunk on a suspended license or hit you while fleeing the police, he might have to pay punitive damages for this exceptionally egregious behavior.
Limits on Damages
In Texas, there are statutory limitations on the availability of exemplary damages. The state has a rather complicated method for determining the maximum you will be able to recover in these damages. By law, you may be awarded the greater of sums:
- $200,000; or
- two times the amount of economic damages, plus the amount of non-economic damages you were awarded–though not to exceed $750,000.
There are also additional limitations on exemplary damages if the wrongful party is a state or local government unit or employee.
A Dedicated Laredo Car Accident Lawyer
The days after a car accident can be stressful, confusing and often painful. You may be recovering from an injury, trying to take care of your daily responsibilities, and you’re without a vehicle to drive. You want to make the right decisions, and get your life back on track, but you may not have the energy or ability to aggressively advocate for yourself. Meanwhile, the legal issues may seem bewildering–especially if you have insurance adjusters calling you with questions day and night.
Ronald A. Ramos wants to help you. He’s ready to answer your questions about your options and the strength of your case. He will give you the direct, honest answers that will help you make smart, strategic decisions. Because he wants you to recover faster and regain peace of mind. He wants to help you to take back ownership of your life. To learn more, please call Ronald A. Ramos today at (956) 725-7537 for a free case consultation.