Tennessee Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules
If you've been injured in an accident in Tennessee, make sure you understand these rules before you start your personal injury case.
The Tennessee legislature and the state's courts have enacted and applied a number of laws and legal rulings when it comes to personal injury cases. These rules may come into play whether you are filing a lawsuit in court or negotiating a settlement with an insurance company. Read on to learn more.
Time Limits for Tennessee Personal Injury Lawsuits
In Tennessee, a law known as the "statute of limitations" sets a time limit on how long you have to file a case in the state's court system after an accident or injury. Under Tennessee's statute of limitations, you have one year after the date of an accident to get any lawsuit filed.
It's important to keep track of Tennessee's statute of limitations and comply with it, because if you don't file within one year, the court may refuse to hear your case at all. Section 28-3-104 of the Tennessee Code contains the full text of Tennessee's statute of limitations as it applies to personal injury lawsuits.
Shared Fault in Tennessee Injury Cases
Many times, an injured person files a lawsuit or an insurance claim after an accident, only to hear other parties insist that the injured person is actually at fault, at least partially.
When a Tennessee court decides that the injured person bears some of the blame for the accident that led to the injury, it applies a modified comparative fault rule that reduces or eliminates the injured person's damages award.
Here's an example of Tennessee's modified comparative fault rule in action. Suppose that you're sitting at a red light one day when your car is rear-ended by another driver. At the time of the accident, one of your car's brake lights was not working. A court decides that you are 20 percent at fault for the accident, and that the other driver is 80 percent at fault. Your total damages add up to $10,000.
What happens to your damages award? Since you were found to share 20 percent of the fault, Tennessee's modified comparative fault rule applies to reduce your damages award by 20 percent, or $2,000. since 20 percent of the fault was assigned to you. You will still be able to collect $8,000 from any other at-fault party in the accident.
As long as you are found to be less than 50 percent at fault, you may still recover some amount of compensation for your losses. But if you're found to be 50 percent or more at fault, you will be prevented from collecting any damages from any other at-fault party.
Tennessee courts are required by law to apply the state's comparative fault rule when allocating damages after a court judgment. And don't be surprised to hear about Tennessee's shared fault rules during insurance settlement negotiations with the other driver's adjuster, if fault is at issue.
"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Tennessee however, a specific statute (Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-8-413) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
"The owner of a dog has a duty to keep that dog under reasonable control at all times, and to keep that dog from running at large. A person who breaches that duty is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another."
Damage Caps in Tennessee Injury Cases
Damages in personal injury cases may be "capped," or limited, by state law. Many states limit the amount of money an injured person can receive in damages in medical malpractice cases, and/or in terms of non-economic or "pain and suffering" damages.
Tennessee has recently enacted some pretty broad-based tort reform. As of 2011, Tennessee caps non-economic damages in most personal injury cases at $750,000. If the injuries include amputation of a limb, severe burns, paralysis from a spinal cord injury, or the death of a minor child's parent, non-economic damages are capped at $1,000,000. These caps apply to all types of personal injury cases.
Injury Claims Involving the Tennessee Government
If your accident or injury resulted from the negligence of a Tennessee state government agency or employee, you'll have to follow a special set of rules that apply specifically to injury claims involving the government. For example, you have one year to file your claim with the state government after an injury and ninety days to appeal your case if you are denied compensation.