Do I need a lawyer after a car accident in Texas?
People drive their cars every day throughout Texas-in cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and in towns and villages across the state. But when there's a car accident, people's lives can change in an instant. They are left with serious injuries and require costly medical treatment. They are unable to immediately return to work and start losing money. They may be left with a temporary disability-or a permanent one.
All drivers in the state are required to have car insurance, which is supposed to pay compensation for injuries and property damage suffered in an accident. The problem is, insurance companies aren't interested in doing what's best for car accident victims. They are interested in doing what's best for their bottom line.
Getting financial compensation after a car accident in Texas is not an easy task. Having an experienced car accident attorney in your corner gives you the best chance of recovering the compensation you deserve. An experienced lawyer knows how the claims process works and how to get insurance companies to meet their responsibilities.
How common are car accidents in Texas?
According to statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 518,577 crashes statewide in 2015. Every county had its share of accidents, including Bexar (48,269), Dallas (48,999), Harris (110,459), Fort Bend (8,808) and Montgomery (9,928).
Some quicks facts about state car accidents from the Texas Department of Transportation:
- There were 13,616 serious injury crashes in Texas in 2015 with 17,011 people sustaining a serious injury.
- A total of 246,335 persons were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015.
- Fatalities in traffic crashes in rural areas of the state accounted for 54.52% of the state's traffic fatalities. There were 1,925 deaths in rural traffic crashes.
- There were no deathless days on Texas roadways in 2015.
- There were 4 crashes that resulted in 6 or more fatalities in 2015.
- Based on reportable crashes in 2015, 1 person was killed every 2 hours 29 minutes; 1 person was injured every 2 minutes 8 seconds and there was 1 reportable crash occurred every 61 seconds.
- There were 3,531 fatalities in crashes in Texas in 2015.
- In 2015, fatalities occurred in crashes on U.S. & state highways (1,319), intersections (807), interstate highways (549), city streets (513), farm to market roads (530), county roads (216) and tollways (11).
Every injury reported in a car accident means someone's life has changed. Whether the injury is minor or serious, a victim is left to deal with the consequences. Sometimes, those consequences are temporary-the person can make a full recovery and eventually return to work and a normal life. Other times, the consequences are permanent, and the person life is never the same.
Types of car accidents
There are different types of car crashes, including:
- Rear-end collisions-One car strikes another from behind. This can happen when the driver is speeding, tailgating, distracted or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. If a car hits you from behind, that driver is general considered to be at fault.
- Head-on accidents- The front of one car hits the front of another. This can happen when one car crosses the median and hits a car going the other direction. When this type of crash occurs at high speed, there can be serious injuries, often catastrophic or fatal.
- T-bone/Intersection accidents-One car crashes into the side of another. These types of accidents commonly occur at intersections, but can also happen in parking lots or at the end of a driveway. Serious injuries can occur, as side doors are usually smashed in and glass broken.
- Rollover accidents-A car rolls upside-down onto its roof. This can happen when a driver falls asleep or gets distracted, and overcorrects the steering. This type of accident often results in head and neck injuries.
- Hit and run accidents- A driver causes a crash, then drives away. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in Texas. A driver may choose to do because he or she has no insurance, was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or was engaging in illegal activity at the time of the collision.
Any type of accident can cause an injury that changes your life, resulting in mounting medical expenses and lost income. And when that happens, the at-fault driver needs to be held responsible.
Injuries suffered in car accidents
In 2015, 246,335 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes in Texas. Injuries from a car crash can range from mild to extremely serious. But any injury can interfere with your ability to work and lead a normal life. Injuries commonly seen in car accident include:
- Broken bones. In a car accident, the force of impact is often strong enough to result in broken bones. A victim can suffer fractures in the arms, legs, hips, hands, wrists or head. It can take months for simple fractures to heal, and compound fractures can require surgery and hospitalization. Broken bones can affect mobility and leave people unable to return to work.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI). A person can easily suffer a blow to the head during a car accident, causing the brain to crash into the skull. This is called a traumatic brain injury and can affect people in many different ways. Temporary problems can include headache, confusion and memory loss. But long-term problems with speech, vision, hearing, memory and concentration can also develop.
- Neck injuries. One of the most commonly seen injuries is "whiplash." This is when the neck is suddenly and forcefully jerked forward then backward. It can result in damaged nerves, muscles and discs. People with whiplash can experience pain, stiffness and limited mobility.
- Back injuries. A car accident can cause damage to the muscles, ligaments, nerves and/or bones in the back, causing a wide range of problems. These can lead to pain and problems with mobility. When the spinal cord is damaged, a person can be left permanently paralyzed. Treatment may include surgery, physical therapy and chiropractic care.
- Internal injuries. During a car accident, the force of a crash can cause damage to the stomach, liver, spleen, lungs and other internal organs. There may be no symptoms at first. That's why it's important to get medical attention following a crash. An exam can find hidden injuries and treat them before they become life-threatening.
What causes car accidents in Texas?
In order for roads to stay safe, all drivers must be responsible and follow the rules of the road. But too many drivers don't take this responsibility seriously, and are negligent when out on the road. Sooner or later, this negligence results in an accident that leaves people hurt.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, contributing factors to crashes on Texas roads in 2015 included:
- Fatigued or Asleep (9,607)
- Followed Too Closely (25,436)
- Unsafe Speed (26,608)
- Under Influence - Alcohol (14,314)
- Under Influence - Drug (3,377)
- Cell/Mobile Device Use - Texting (1,071)
- Cell/Mobile Device Use - Talking (1,124)
- Distraction in Vehicle (11,691)
- Failed to Yield Right of Way - Turning Left (30,741)
All of these are examples of driver negligence, and establish fault in an accident. However, at-fault drivers often deny responsibility, making recovering compensation more difficult.
Insurance laws in Texas
All drivers in the state of Texas are required to have auto insurance. This insurance provides drivers with liability coverage for injuries and property damage after an accident. The minimum amounts of liability coverage required by law are:
- $25,000 for the injury or death of one person in an accident
- $30,000 for the injury or death of more than one person in an accident
- $60,000 for damage to property
But the total damages in an accident can easily exceed these amounts, so it is recommended that drivers carry higher amounts of liability coverage. In addition, uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage can help protect you if you are injured in a crash with a driver who does not have insurance, or does not have enough to cover your damages. Collision coverage can pay for the costs of repairing or replacing your car.
Options for recovering compensation
Each state has its own system for determining who's responsible for the compensation of car accident victims. Texas is a "fault" car insurance state. The insurance company for the driver considered at fault for the accident is responsible for compensating victims. The at-fault driver is defined as the one who was at least 51 percent responsible for causing the accident.
In Texas, there are three options for recovering financial compensation after a car accident:
- File a "third-party" claim
If another driver was at least 51 percent at fault for the accident, you can file a claim for damages with their insurance company.
- File a "first-party" claim
Whoever was at fault for the crash, you can file a claim for damages with your own insurance company. This can also cover the cost of damages not covered in a third-party claim (if the at-fault driver did not have enough insurance).
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
The insurance company for the at-fault driver may refuse to negotiate a reasonable settlement, or insist that you were mostly at fault for what happened. You can bring the insurance company to court to fight to recover damages.
In some cases, multiple drivers may share responsibility for an accident, in which case each driver pays compensation in proportion to his or her percentage of fault. However, a driver who is at least 51 percent at fault cannot recover any compensation.
The process for recovering compensation after a car accident is pretty straightforward in principle. But getting insurance companies to agree to pay that compensation is not so simple in practice. Insurance companies are all about making profits, and will go to great lengths to deny or reduce payments.
Types of compensation available after an accident
Being injured in a car accident can have a tremendous financial impact, often more than people realize. While each accident is different, total expenses related to your injuries can add up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Some of the compensation available to victims of car accidents in Texas include:
- Emergency medical care after accident
- Long-term hospital care
- Surgical procedures
- Physical therapy
- Lost income during recovery
- Lost future earnings (if you can't return to work)
- Modifications to home to accommodate a permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of companionship
But the process of actually recovering compensation is filled with obstacles. At-fault drivers can deny responsibility, and insurance companies go to great lengths to avoid paying the full amount of damages you've suffered.
Insurance company tactics
Your goal after being injured in a car accident is simply to get the financial compensation you deserve. But the insurance company's goal is to pay you as little as possible. There are several tactics they use in the pursuit of that goal. They include:
- Making a quick settlement offer-They may even say that it's the best they can possibly do, even though it doesn't come close to paying for all the damages. The insurance company is hoping you will just accept the offer and go away.
- Questioning your injuries-They may insist that your injuries aren't really serious, and require you to get an independent medical evaluation with a doctor of their choosing. Or, they may claim your injury existed before the accident.
- Asking for a recorded statement-You may be asked by the at-fault driver's insurance company to answer some questions. What they really want is to try to trick you into saying something that can be used against you. If you are asked to make a statement, tell them you wish to speak to your lawyer first.
- Blaming you for the accident-The insurance company may try to show that you were at least partially to blame for what happened. Texas uses a modified comparative fault rule. This means your damages may be reduced if you are found partially responsible for causing the accident.
- Delaying your claim-Your injury requires medical treatment and may keep you from working. The insurance hopes that by delaying your claim, you'll be so concerned about paying bills that you'll agree to a lower settlement.
- Telling you a lawyer isn't necessary-You may be told that your claim is relatively minor and that getting a lawyer will only make things more complicated. Don't be fooled. The insurance company has lawyers looking after their interests. You should have a lawyer looking after yours.
When the insurance company and their lawyers are determined to fight your efforts to recover compensation, you need someone who will fight for you.
How an attorney can help
If you were injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another, you shouldn't have to pay. Having an experienced car accident attorney on your side can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Here are some of the things an experienced lawyer in Texas can do for you:
- Determine your true damages-A lawyer will make sure all of your needs related to your injury are considered. This often includes future medical expenses, such as therapy and follow-up doctor visits. It can also include home modifications and home health care. In addition, an attorney will consider non-economic damages, such as emotional distress and pain and suffering.
- Find evidence of negligence by the other party-Many drivers deny responsibility for an accident. An experienced attorney has the resources to conduct an investigation and knows where to look for evidence of negligence.
- Handle all the paperwork-A lawyer can help you fill out all the necessary paperwork properly when filing a claim for damages and make sure you meet all filing deadlines. Making mistakes or missing deadlines can make it more difficult for you to recover compensation.
- Help you get you the medical care you need-Some people injured in a car accident put off treatment for their injuries because they can't afford it. An experienced lawyer can help you pursue all options for compensation and make arrangements to make sure you get the care you need.
- Negotiate with the insurance company-An experienced lawyer knows the tricks that insurance companies like to play, and also knows how to fight back against them. When insurance companies see that a claimant's lawyer has built a strong case, they are much more likely to come to the negotiating table and agree to a favorable settlement.
- Fight the insurance company in court, if necessary-There are times when an insurance company refuses to negotiate. An experienced car accident lawyer has the litigation skills to help you pursue a successful claim in court.
The insurance company will have their own attorneys looking out for them. You need an experienced lawyer looking out for your interests. An attorney has the legal knowledge, the resources and the time to focus on recovering compensation for you. This allows you to focus on recovering from your injury as much as possible. And when a lawyer works on a contingency fee basis, you don't pay anything unless you receive compensation. It pays to have an experienced car accident lawyer on your side.
For more information
Contact Tracey & Fox, a Texas law firm dedicated to helping accident victims get the financial compensation they need and deserve. The firm has offices in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.