Jason Stephens | November 3, 2020 | Car Accidents
Car accidents rattle everyone involved. Even when people are uninjured, it can be unnerving to be in a sudden wreck. In the wake of a crash, people are naturally concerned about injuries – their own and those of others. But it is important to be careful not to admit or imply acceptance of fault.
One of the single most mistakes that a person may make is to admit liability for a car accident. This is true even if you are sure that an accident is your fault.
In the aftermath of a crash, it can be tempting to apologize for an accident while determining that everyone is safe. There are good reasons not to do this.
Texas is a Comparative Fault State With a 51% Bar
Fault always matters in a car accident. It matters especially in a state which uses a modified comparative fault system.
In Texas, fault is assigned by percentage from 100% to 0%. A person in Texas can be 50% at fault and still collect damages from another more culpable party. The damages collected are then reduced by 50%.
However, if a person is 51% or more at fault, they collect nothing under the law. They are barred from any recovery.
Admitting fault really matters in Texas. It can significantly reduce the value of a claim or preclude a person from any recovery.
Fault is Different From Feeling Sorry
Legal fault is different from feeling responsibility for another person’s injuries. A person may feel responsible just by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Legally speaking, fault is much more complicated. Fault is attached when your actions breach a duty of care that is owed to another person.
This might involve:
The terms “actual” and “proximate” are legal concepts that are often the center of dispute. These concepts are key in determining fault in a car accident.
The defendant’s action must have actually caused the accident, and it must be the proximate cause as well. Proximate cause is maybe best understood as the attenuation between the defendant’s action and the accident. The closer the relationship between the action and the accident, the more likely the action is the proximate cause. The further removed the action is from the accident the less likely there is to be sufficient proximate cause to find legal fault.
Expressing concern or apologizing for an accident to a person at the scene or to an insurance adjuster later may be construed as an admission of fault. Sometimes people are so rattled at the scene of an accident that they admit fault even if they know the accident was not their fault. An admission of fault is hard to walk back once made. That apology can prevent you from collecting damages later on. It is the job of a judge or jury to determine fault.
It is always better to say only what is necessary to anyone connected with the accident, other than your attorney. You can discuss what happened with an investigating police officer at the scene, but it is best to do so by only relating facts. Your attorney can discuss liability with an insurance adjustor or opposing counsel in a way that avoids any admission of fault.
An Insurance Adjuster Can Deny a Claim Based on an Admission
It is important to know that an insurance adjuster representing another insured, is not going to want to settle your insurance claim. An apology or an admission of fault is often enough grounds for that insurance adjustor to deny a claim for damages. This is true even if another party is legally at fault. This makes collecting damages more difficult.
Some car accidents are straightforward. A driver hits a legally parked car. Fault is clear. But much of the time, auto accident cases need to be investigated before liability can be assigned. A spontaneous admission makes it easier for other parties to pin liability on the person making the admission.
Liability Questions Should Be Brought to an Attorney You Trust
Liability can be a complicated issue. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney you trust rather than to try to sort out liability with an insurance adjuster. This is especially true if you think you may have inadvertently made an admission of fault. In that case, contact an attorney as soon as you are able. Your attorney can help you determine the possible effect of any admission on your part.