Texas Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Even though Texas suffers about 3,000 road accident deaths per year, Texas is about average in per-capita road deaths compared to other states because of its high population. Effectively prosecuting a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death requires a basic understanding of Texas tort law and civil procedure. Some of these basics appear below.

Statute of Limitations: In Texas, you have two years from the date of an accident to initiate litigation seeking damages for either personal injury or property damage. If someone died in the accident, an eligible family member has two years from the date of the victim’s death to initiate litigation.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: When fault for the accident is shared, the court will assign the victim a percentage of fault based on the evidence presented at a hearing. If the victim was 51 percent or more at fault, his case will be thrown out of court. If he was 50 percent or less at fault, his damages will be reduced in direct proportion to his percentage of fault.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Texas is not a no-fault state – if the other driver was at fault, you will need to look to the other driver’s insurance policy to secure compensation in most cases.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: In terms of mandatory liability insurance coverage, Texas requires 25/50/10 insurance policies – at least $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per injury accident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Texas does not require its drivers to purchase insurance covering uninsured or underinsured drivers.

Types of Damages Available: Economic compensatory damages are available without limit. Non-economic compensatory damages (for emotional distress, for example) are capped for medical malpractice claims — $250,000 against a doctor, and another $250,000 against a health care facility for a total maximum of $500,000, plus $100,000 for property damage. Punitive damages are subject to complex rules governing the maximum amount awardable. Certain charitable health care facilities are immune from suit.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, but no claim can be pursued for a vehicle that was originally sold by the defendant more than 15 years prior to the accident.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): A cap of $250,000 per plaintiff and $500,000 per lawsuit applies; these caps are lower for municipal governments.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders under 21 must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: Seat belts required in both front and back seats, while children aged 8 or older must be secured in child safety seats or booster seats unless they are at least 57 inches tall. Fines range from $25 to $200.

Dram Shop Law: Licensed alcohol vendors are subject to limited third-party civil liability if they sell alcohol to underage or obviously inebriated patrons whose intoxication later injures a third party. Social hosts face limited third-party liability for serving underage drinkers.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): In Texas, a first-offense DWI results in jail time of three to 180 days, a fine of up to $2,000, and a driver’s license suspension of 90 to 365 days.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: A DWI suspect who refuses to take a breath, blood or urine sobriety test can lose his driver’s license for 180 days (first offense).

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is illegal if anyone under 18 is in the car, including the driver. Cell phone use is banned for on-duty school bus drivers with passengers under 18, and for drivers under 18. Hands-free cell phones are included in the cell phone ban.