Common sense would seem to tell you that if someone is drinking and driving in our state and you get into an accident with them, they’re the one who’s going to be at fault. After all, everyone knows that it’s illegal to drive while intoxicated.
Moreover, it’s common knowledge that alcohol makes you impaired. Stands to reason that the impaired individual is the one that caused the crash, right?
The Drunk Driver Isn’t Always Found Liable
For better or worse, it is not always the case that the impaired individual is the one who caused the accident, and Texas law recognizes this. While it is certainly true that driving drunk will increase someone’s chances of being found liable if they get into an accident, it is not absolute proof.
This is particularly frustrating here in the Lone Star State because an inordinate percentage of our traffic fatalities are due to drunk drivers. While the national average is 29 percent, a staggering 40 percent of traffic deaths here involve a driver who is impaired.
In this post, we’re going to cover how liability in Texas drunk driving accidents works, and where intoxication factors into that equation.
Texas Auto Injury Liability: The Elements That Need to Be Proven
When injuries result from an auto crash in our state, it is possible for the victim to file a personal injury claim if they believe that another party’s negligence is responsible. Most of the time, that means one driver suing another under the argument that they caused the accident.
In order for the injured party to win their case, they have to prove four elements — duty of care, breach of duty, damages, and causation. This is true whether you’re talking about a case against a drunk driver or any other party. How does each of those four things work?
Duty of Care
This essentially says that the other driver owed you a duty to drive responsibly and safely, following driving rules and being careful on the road.
Breach of Duty
This means that the other driver did not live up to their duty, instead they behaved in a way that was unsafe. Related to this is Proximate Cause, which says that a reasonable person would have known that the actions in question were potentially dangerous.
It may sound silly or annoying if you’re sitting in a hospital or staring down a pile of medical bills, but you have to prove that actual damages occurred. In other words, yes, you really did get injured in the crash, and that has cost you.
Not only was the other driver unsafe. Not only did you get hurt. It was their specific actions (or lack of action, in some cases) that directly resulted in your injuries.
Prove these four things and you win your case. Fail to prove them and the other driver will not be held financially responsible for the damages you suffered.
Where the Elements of Liability Cross Paths With Texas Drunk Driving Laws
Here’s the good news if you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver and there is proof of their drunkenness: according to how these types of lawsuits work, the first two elements are basically already proven.
How so? Simply getting behind the wheel and driving in Texas means they have a duty of care to other drivers — this is true for all of us who drive. There’s your first check. If it has already been proven that they were drinking and driving, that’s your second check, because the very act of driving while inebriated is, by its very nature, an unsafe act and therefore a breach of duty.
Unfortunately, that’s where the “benefits” of getting into a crash with a drunk driver stop. You will still need to prove that you suffered actual damages in the accident, and you will have to connect their specific actions to those damages.
The first of these — damages — is typically proven by submitting things such as medical reports, hospital bills, records of missed work, and so on. Your goal is to show that you sustained real injuries in the accident and that they cost you financially.
Proving causation is more about finding evidence that their actions led to the accident occurring. Police reports showing the drunk party at fault are helpful, as are accounts from any witnesses and other types of evidence that support your claim.
Why Might a Drunk Driver Not Be Held Liable in a Texas Auto Injury Claim?
This may sound crazy, but it is entirely possible for a drunk driver to be held criminally responsible by getting charged with a DWI and still escape having to pay for your damages. How in the world could that happen?
Typically, this type of thing happens when the sober driver was also engaging in unsafe behavior of some kind. Maybe they were distracted. Or driving while extremely tired. Or speeding. It can be particularly damning to a case if the sober driver has been found at fault for the accident. If the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent responsible for the accident, Texas law says that they cannot receive compensation.
The important thing to remember is the simple fact that the other driver was drinking does not guarantee their liability for your injuries. You have to show that they caused those injuries — not the other way around.
About the Author:
Since she started practicing law in Texas in 2004, Sharon Fulgham has consistently been named a Rising Star by SuperLawyers (2012-2019) and a Top Attorney by Fort Worth Magazine. Additionally, she has worked with some of the best attorneys in the state and served as a partner at the biggest law firm in Fort Worth. Sharon has successfully handled cases at both the state and federal level, and always provides her clients with legal services that are personalized to fit their needs. Outside of work, the most important things in Sharon’s life are her faith, her family (husband Brandon and three children), and serving her community.