Joint and Several Liability in Texas Multiple Vehicle Collisions
I had a client come into my office who had been in a serious car accident. He sustained significant injuries from the crash and had already accumulated very high medical bills. My client was a passenger in a car driven by a friend.
Their vehicle was struck from the side by a large truck that was attempting to change lanes. The impact of the collision sent my client’s car into the guardrail and the car was also struck by the vehicle following them.
The police report cited the large truck driver for an unsafe lane change and it also listed as “other contributing factors” the vehicle who struck them from behind for following too closely. This fact pattern presents a problem that often confronts those who have been in multiple vehicle collisions.
Before 1995, Texas had the traditional “Joint and Several Liability Rule”
This rule made each and every defendant or at-fault party liable for the entire amount of the plaintiff’s damages regardless of their relative degrees of fault or responsibility. So in our fact pattern above, my client would have been able to recover his entire damages from either the large truck or the vehicle that hit him from behind. This was true even if it was determined that the vehicle that hit them from behind was only 20% responsible for my client’s damages; they would still be responsible for 100% of my client’s damages.
In 1995, Texas made a change to what some call “Modified Joint and Several Liability“. This rule says that a defendant is only responsible for the full amount of the plaintiff’s damages if they are found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident. Otherwise, they are only responsible for an amount equal to their percentage of fault.
Under modified joint and several liability, my client would only be able to recover his full amount of damages from the truck driver or the vehicle from behind if the jury found them to be more than 50% responsible for the accident. Because multiple vehicle collisions present many complicated issues, it is a good idea to contact a personal injury lawyer to help you properly set up your claims.