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What role does 'fault' play in a wrongful death claim?

A 63-year-old bicyclist died earlier this month in Bexar County. According to authorities, he apparently was struck and killed by a motorist as he was riding along the shoulder of a highway.

On the basis of those limited facts it might be easy to draw the conclusion that this was a clear case of a negligent driver causing a fatal accident. As such, it might also be reasonable to assume that a wrongful death lawsuit would be in order. But before making any such a call all the details need to be considered.

As it happens, the police in this instance say that the cyclist may have been at fault. A spokesman for the county sheriff's office says the initial investigation of the incident indicates that the bike rider apparently was looking to continue along the highway and opted to cross an exit lane. It just so happened that he crossed as the car was looking to get off the highway at that same spot. Since he cut across the lane, officials suggest fault rested with the cyclist.

However, in Texas, the standard for determining liability in an accident is one based on modified comparative negligence. That is, there's an assumption that all parties involved share in the blame. The challenge then becomes determining how much fault to assign to each of the parties. Comparative negligence may limit how much a plaintiff might be able to recover, but it doesn't necessarily mean no case exists.

In the case of this cyclist some questions would seem to be worth asking to assess actual fault. For example, did the motorist signal his or her intent to take the exit? If not, it might have been fair for the cyclist to expect that it was safe to cross the lane.

The answers to this and other questions might further color any decisions regarding whether to seek compensation. Consulting with an attorney is always advised to determine if a viable case exists.

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