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What is “proportionate responsibility” in Texas?

Most Texans understand that a person whose negligence causes an automobile accident is liable for the damages suffered by other persons involved in the accident. But what happens if more than one person is negligent? For example, consider the situation where a speeding vehicle hits another vehicle that ran a red light. Both drivers may be ruled to have been negligent and their negligence to have been causes of the accident. In Texas, such cases are decided under the rule of “proportionate liability.”

Under the applicable Texas statute, the jury must determine the percentage of responsibility to be assigned to each of the parties listed below:

  • Each claimant;
  • Each defendant;
  • Each settling person and
  • Any responsible third party who has been designated by the defendant

When the case is tried, the jury is given a verdict form that lists all of the above parties who are still considered potentially liable. The jury must assign a percentage of fault to each party listed on the form according to the court’s instructions. (The jury can, if it wishes, assign zero responsibility to any party.) The jury must also assess damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering. These assessments are made independently of the allocations of responsibility. After the jury returns a verdict, the court will prepare and issue an order for judgment that assesses liability and specifies the amount of damages against each party according to the jury’s allocation of responsibility.

A plaintiff who is determined to have been, say, 30% responsible, can only recover 70% of the damages awarded by the jury. A plaintiff who is found to be more than 50% liable for the accident will be barred from recovery against all parties whose share of responsibility is equal to or less than 50%.