What Happens When You Are at Fault for a Car Accident in Dallas, TX?

It’s distressing enough to suffer a car accident. It becomes even more distressing once you realize that you might be at fault for the accident. So what consequences might you face? 

Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario is criminal charges. Under a best-case scenario, however, you might discover that you have a valid defense that completely relieves you of liability.

Criminal Consequences

If you are at fault for a car accident and someone is injured, it is possible that Texas might pursue a criminal prosecution against you. If this happens, you might be facing not only fines but jail or prison time as well. Under Texas criminal law, your mental state determines your criminal liability. Descriptions of three of these mental states appear below.   

Criminal Negligence 

You are negligent if you act in disregard of a risk that you should have recognized. Criminal negligence is an extreme form of negligence. An example would be failing to maintain your brakes leading to a fatal accident, a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, and a prison sentence of up to two years.


Recklessness is worse than negligence. You are reckless if you act in disregard of a known risk. The classic example is driving while intoxicated. If you cause a fatal accident due to intoxication, you can face a manslaughter charge and a prison term of two to 20 years.

Intentional Misconduct

Suppose you deliberately run a motorcyclist off the road in an act of ‘road rage.’ If the motorcyclist dies as a result, you will face a murder charge. For murder, you could face imprisonment for up to 99 years or even the death penalty. In some cases, however, the penalty can be as low as two years in prison. 

Mandatory Auto Insurance Requirements in Texas

Texas law requires drivers to purchase at least the following amount of auto liability insurance:

  • $30,000 per person in bodily injury liability insurance;
  • $60,000 per accident in bodily injury liability insurance (no matter how many people are injured in the accident); and
  • $25,000 per accident in bodily injury property damage insurance.

Although you can purchase more than the foregoing minimum amount of insurance, your insurance company will under no circumstances pay out a dime more than the maximum amount of whatever insurance policy you purchased. If you didn’t purchase any insurance, or if your insurance coverage expired before the accident, your insurance company will pay nothing. 

Texas is an “At-Fault” Auto Insurance State

About a dozen US states operate a “no-fault” auto insurance system. Texas is not one of these states. Instead, Texas applies an “at-fault” system. Under the Texas at-fault auto insurance system, if someone suffers injury in an accident that you caused, they have two options:

  • File a third-party personal injury claim against your insurance policy; or
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against you.  

Either way, you might discover that you still owe the plaintiff money even after your insurance company has paid out its policy limits. If so, you are on the hook for the rest of the money.

What the Plaintiff Has To Prove To Win

The plaintiff must prove that you caused the accident through some sort of misconduct. Although that might mean intentionally causing an accident, or recklessly causing an accident while intoxicated, usually it means ordinary negligence. To establish liability for ordinary negligence the plaintiff must prove that:

  • You owed them a duty of care. This is difficult to deny if you were driving on a public road, because you would owe almost everyone a duty of care to drive safely.
  • You breached your duty of care. You either did something you shouldn’t have done (turned the wrong way onto a one-way street, for example) or failed to do something you should have done (stop at a red light, for example). In personal injury law, breach of duty of care equals negligence.
  • They suffered an injury. Once they prove they suffered a physical injury, they can proceed to demand compensation for psychological injuries as well. 
  • Your negligence caused their injury (actual cause).
  • Their injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of your negligence (proximate cause).

The plaintiff doesn’t have to prove these facts “beyond a reasonable doubt”–all they need is “a preponderance of the evidence” – a 51% likelihood that the fact they are trying to prove is true.

Your Potential Liability

You could face the following potential financial liability:

  • Economic damages: Medical bills, lost earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, and any other easily countable losses.
  • Noneconomic damages: Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more. This might add up to more than economic damages.
  • Punitive damages: An extra amount that a court might award the plaintiff if your conduct was particularly outrageous.

Even if the plaintiff wins their case against you, they probably won’t win punitive damages. 

Wrongful Death

Be aware that if the plaintiff dies from their injuries, you might have to face a wrongful death claim. Certain close family members can file a wrongful death claim, and a different set of damages applies. 

Affirmative Defenses

In an ordinary defense, you simply deny that one of the elements of the claim applies. For example, you deny that you were negligent, you deny that the plaintiff suffered injury, or you deny that your negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury. In an affirmative defense, by contrast, you assert the existence of a situation that partially or completely relieves you of liability. 

The following affirmative defenses are popular:

  • Comparative negligence: The plaintiff shares fault for the accident.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant waited too long to file the lawsuit.
  • Assumption of risk: The plaintiff voluntarily accepted the risk of harm (voluntary participation in a drag race, for example). Your legal position is stronger if the plaintiff signed a waiver of liability.
  • Pre-existing condition: The plaintiff’s injuries predated the accident.
  • Necessity: You swerved into the path of the plaintiff’s car to avoid hitting a small child who had wandered into the road, for example.
  • Failure to mitigate damages (a partial defense): the plaintiff failed to do everything they could to minimize their damages.

You must prove your affirmative defense by “a preponderance of the evidence,” the same standard discussed above. 

An Experienced Dallas Car Accident Lawyer Can Make a Difference

A Dallas personal injury lawyer with experience in cases where liability is in dispute can make a dramatic difference in the amount of liability you have to bear. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible after the crash–the sooner you get a lawyer involved, the better off you will be.

Contact Our Car Accident Law Firm in Dallas, TX

If you’ve been injured in an accident in Dallas, Texas, and need legal help, contact our Dallas car accident lawyers at Jay Murray Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today.

Jay Murray Personal Injury Lawyers
2512 State St,
Dallas, TX 75201
(214) 855-1420