Does “negligence per se” apply to car accidents in Texas?

The act of driving a car requires the person behind the wheel to observe a wide range of traffic safety laws, which govern activities like speed limits, right-of-way, acceptable turns and passing, insurance requirements, and much more. All of these laws can be found in Texas statutes.

Violation of traffic laws can lead to criminal sanctions ranging from speeding tickets to prison sentences. But in a civil negligence action, can another driver’s violation of one or more traffic laws be something that you can use as evidence of negligence? The answer appears to be that yes, you can.

Texas law recognizes the doctrine known as “negligence per se.” What this means is that some behaviors, such as violating a law, can be construed as acts of negligence in themselves. The general requirements to use this doctrine in a car accident lawsuit are:

  1. Did the defendant violate a statute; and if so,
  2. Was that statutory violation the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury?

If both elements are met, the advantage of showing the existence of negligence per se is that it is not necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the defendant breached a duty to the plaintiff or that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, because the statutory violation will establish both of those requirements.

Negligence per se in a civil personal injury lawsuit arising from a car accident can be an effective tool in supporting claims of negligence. A personal injury attorney who knows the relevant Texas statutes as well as the court cases that have applied these laws in negligence per se cases should be able to use this doctrine to advantage if the facts of the accident support it.