If you are in an accident, you’re probably wondering, What happens when I am partially at fault for my injuries? Since liability laws vary from state to state, it’s important to have an experienced injury legal practitioner on your side. At Batson Nolan PLC, we help Tennessee clients navigate the complex negligence laws of the state and passionately fight on their behalf.
Tennessee’s Fault Laws
The state of Tennessee follows a modified version of the comparative fault doctrine. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102(b), if the court finds the plaintiff partially liable for their injuries, their award may be reduced or barred based on their percentage of liability. This means that a plaintiff’s share of liability for their injuries must be less than 50% to receive compensation. Consider the following example:
Jacob is speeding north on a small road because he is late for work. At the next intersection, he decides to do a rolling stop without looking both ways. Another driver travelling west approaches the same intersection and runs the stop sign, hitting Jacob’s car. Jacob sustains a serious back injury leading to paraplegia and $250,000 in medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and accessibility installations at his home. He decides to sue the other driver for $250,000 in economic damages and an additional $750,000 for pain and suffering. The case goes to trial, and the jury finds Jacob 25% at fault for his injuries since he did a rolling stop instead of a full stop. The jury then reduces his total damages of $1,000,000 by 25%, leaving him with an award of $750,000.
As this example shows, it is still possible to receive compensation for an accident if you share some of the fault. This is why collecting evidence from the accident, such as pictures, witness statements, etc. is a crucial part of your claim.
Damages You May Claim in a Personal Injury Case
In Tennessee, as long as you are less than 50% at fault for your injuries, you may recover compensation for your damages. This includes both economic and non-economic damages, as well as punitive damages in rare instances.
In personal injury cases, economic damages include any measurable losses sustained by the plaintiff. In other words, the losses must be something tangible, such as:
- Past or future medical expenses relating to the injury;
- Costs to replace or repair damaged property; and
- Lost wages during the plaintiff’s recovery.
Medical expenses, especially hospital treatment, make up a bulk of the economic damages in a personal injury case. This is especially true if the plaintiff sustains a serious injury that results in a permanent disability.
Also known as general damages, this includes losses that aren’t quantifiable. In other words, it’s impossible to tie non-economic damages to a bill or receipt. This includes:
- Pain and suffering,
- Emotional distress,
- Loss of companionship,
- Loss of quality of life,
- Physical impairment, and
Unlike economic damages, these losses are subjective and vary widely depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, a plaintiff who loses the use of their legs in an accident may receive more non-economic damages than one who has a temporary injury. Generally, non-economic damages are limited to $750,000 in standard personal injury cases or $1,000,000 if the victim has a catastrophic injury.
Courts award punitive damages only in cases where the defendant acted in a grossly negligent manner. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-104(a)(1), the plaintiff must provide “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant…acted maliciously, intentionally, fraudulently or recklessly.” Proving this is incredibly difficult without the help of an experienced injury attorney.
There are also limitations to the amount of punitive damages the plaintiff may receive. In Tennessee, punitive damages may not exceed either $500,000 or the two times the total damages awarded, whichever is greater.
What If More Than Two People Share Fault?
If more than two people share fault in an accident, the jury still assigns a percentage of fault to each defendant and the plaintiff. As long as the plaintiff’s fault is less than 50%, they may still recover damages from each of the defendants assigned a percentage of fault. Consider this example:
John pulls up next to Jarrod in his car at a red light. He starts to rev his engine and taunt Jarrod into a street race. When the light turns green, both John and Jarrod take off at high speeds. Another car, driven by Betty, makes a right hand turn onto the same street at the next intersection and tries merging into the middle lane. Both John and Jarrod collide with Betty’s car, leaving her severely injured. She decides to sue both drivers for damages totaling $1.5 million. The jury finds Betty 10% responsible because she didn’t look before turning. However, they also find John 50% at fault and Jarrod 40% at fault for Betty’s injuries. Betty’s total damages are reduced by her percentage of fault, with a total award of $1.35 million.
In this case, even though the plaintiff is partially at fault, their share of fault is less than 50%. In addition, each defendant has a percentage of fault, which means both of them must pay for a portion of Betty’s damages.
Injured Due to Another Person’s Negligence? Call Us Today
If you have been injured in an accident, you don’t need to go it alone. At Batson Nolan PLC, our Tennessee injury lawyers understand how difficult it is for victims to manage their own claim. With over 150 years of combined experience, we can handle every aspect of your personal injury case, so you can focus on your recovery. Our goal is to help get your life back on track.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss the details of your case. We are proud to serve clients throughout the state of Tennessee from our offices in Clarksville and Springfield.