Posted by Chip Evans on 08/23/2018

What If More Than One Party Is Responsible for Your Injury?

Proving legal responsibility for an accident can be challenging enough when there’s just one person at fault. But when there are more than one, the process of determining liability and compensation gets even more complex.

In Texas, you can often recover damages from multiple defendants in a personal injury case. How much you can recover from each depends on how much each defendant contributed to the accident. And if you yourself were partially responsible, you may recover less—or nothing at all.

The Modified Comparative Fault Rule

The exact percentage of fault assigned to each party can be determined by a jury in a trial, or it can be arrived at before a trial during negotiations with an insurance adjustor. But what happens once that percentage is established?

A few states follow a Pure Contributory Negligence Rule, which states that an injured party cannot collect damages if he is even a little bit (1 percent or more) responsible for the injury. Thirteen other states follow the Pure Comparative Fault Rule, under which an injured party can collect even if he is 99 percent at fault—but the amount he can recover will be decreased according to the degree to which he is at fault.

The majority of states follow one of two variations on the Modified Comparative Fault Rule (known in Texas as Proportionate Responsibility). In the 12 states that follow the 50 Percent Bar Rule, a plaintiff can collect as long as he is not 50 percent or more at fault (i.e., he must be 49 percent or less at fault). In the 21 states—including Texas—that follow the 51 Percent Bar Rule, the plaintiff cannot collect if he is 51 percent or more at fault for the injury (i.e., he bears more than half of the blame for the accident).  

Joint and Several Liability

So, as long as you are only half responsible (or less) for an accident, you may be entitled to damages, even though there may be several other parties responsible. Texas follows a rule known as Joint and Several Liability, which allows plaintiffs to seek damages from multiple defendants.

Most jurisdictions that follow Joint and Several Liability have a proviso that any parties that contributed to the accident are liable for 100 percent of the damages. In other words, if the fault for an accident were split 50/50 between two parties, but one party couldn’t pay (perhaps because he didn’t have insurance), the other party would be responsible for all of the damages.

Texas follows a slightly modified Joint and Several Liability rule. In Texas, a defendant can be found liable for the full amount only if he was found to be 51 percent (or more) responsible for the accident, or if he acted intentionally. Otherwise, he would be liable only for the amount he was deemed to be at fault in the accident.

For example, in a traffic accident, the plaintiff may be found to be 20 percent at fault, while two defendants were found to be 60 percent and 20 percent responsible. The plaintiff may be able to ultimately collect the full amount he is entitled to (80 percent of all damages, because he shared in the blame) from the defendant who was 60 percent responsible.

However, if the other two parties in the same case were found to both be 40 percent responsible, then the plaintiff could only recover a maximum of 40 percent of the total damages from either party.

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