What Happens When You Are at Fault for a Car Accident in San Antonio, TX?
July 21, 2023 | Car Accidents
You might have wondered at some point, “What happens if I’m at fault in a car accident?” It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. One moment you’re driving down the road, perhaps enjoying a song on the radio. The next moment you’re in shock, you’re in pain—and you’re to blame. You might have some confusion, worrying whether your driving error, whatever it was, might actually constitute a criminal offense.
Was Your Driving Error a Criminal Offense?
Your driving error was not necessarily a criminal offense, even if someone was killed. If someone died in an accident that arose from non-criminal negligence, a wrongful death lawsuit is the appropriate response.
What gets you into criminal trouble is not simple negligence, although simple negligence could drive you into bankruptcy after a successful lawsuit against you.
Negligence vs. Criminal Negligence, Recklessness, and Intentional Misconduct
Criminal charges can arise from criminal negligence, recklessness, and intentional misconduct. Criminal negligence is more severe than the type of negligence that can lead to a civil claim. It might describe extreme carelessness, but how ‘extreme’ must your carelessness be to constitute criminal negligence? Nobody can draw a clear line; it will depend on the facts of the case, among other factors.
Beyond criminal negligence, however, things get clearer:
- If you cause an accident because you were driving DUI, this will probably constitute reckless behavior. You will probably go to jail even if nobody was seriously hurt.
- If you intentionally caused an accident (in a fit of “road rage,” for example), you could be imprisoned long-term as well.
If the police believe you were guilty of a crime, they would probably arrest you at the scene of the accident. Talk to a criminal lawyer as soon as you possibly can if you have any doubts. The police might investigate your case and arrest you later.
What To Do After the Accident
Never leave the scene of a Texas car accident; that is against the law, at least if there were injuries or any significant property damage. Assuming that your offense was not criminal, you need to take certain actions at the scene of the accident (unless you are too seriously injured to do so). These actions include:
- Getting the names and contact details of everyone involved in the accident.
- Collect the contact details of witnesses, and determine if any of the witnesses might have filmed the crash with their smartphones. This evidence might harm your chances of avoiding liability, but you need to know what you are up against.
- Exchange insurance details with the other driver.
- Check to see if any nearby CCTV cameras might have recorded the accident. Some traffic lights have cameras, for example. You might also consider whether any other types of cameras, such as a doorknob camera, caught what happened.
- Take detailed photos of the scene of the accident and any injuries or property damage.
- Seek medical attention if there is any possibility you might need it. Err on the side of caution.
Promptly notify your insurance company of the crash, and consult with a lawyer.
Your Potential Liability
Texas personal injury recognizes three broad categories of compensation (“damages”) that accident victims can recover: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages include the victim’s medical expenses, lost earnings, and incidental expenses such as child care or housekeeping during the recovery period. If the accident caused long-term disability, you could be on the hook for a great deal of money. Imagine, for example, that the accident forced a high-earning 35-year-old to retire early because of their injuries.
Non-economic damages include intangible harm such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life. Courts frequently award more in non-economic damages than they do in economic damages.
Courts seldom award punitive damages (exemplary damages). They will assess them against you only if your conduct was outrageous, and maybe not even then. If you were driving DUI, for example, you might very well face punitive damages. Keep in mind that unless you have a very specific policy, your liability insurance company will not pay punitive damages for you.
Wrongful Death Damages
If someone died in the accident, you might face a wrongful death lawsuit. As you might have guessed, wrongful death damages tend to amount to a lot of money. They can include both economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
You could lose a wrongful death lawsuit even if Texas acquits you of vehicular homicide in criminal court. The reason for this potential discrepancy is that the standard of proof for a criminal prosecution is much higher than it is for a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
Texas comparative negligence principles apply when more than one party shoulders blame for an accident. “What happens if I’m at fault in a car accident and I’m injured?” you might wonder. Well, under Texas law, any party who is more than 50% to blame cannot recover any damages. Any party that is 50% or less to blame will lose that percentage of their own damages that corresponds to their percentage of fault.
The point to remember is that you might not be liable for all of the other side’s damages. The other side might bear at least some liability for their own damages. This is true even for a wrongful death lawsuit where the partially at-fault party is deceased.
Your liability insurance, if it applies, will only pay up to your policy limits. Any damages that a court assesses against you are yours to pay. Of course, if you obviously lack the ability to pay, the injured party might not even bother seeking damages from you.
An Experienced San Antonio Personal Injury Lawyer Can Make a Huge Difference
A San Antonio personal injury lawyer with experience representing at-fault drivers 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.