Tennessee Personal Injury Laws & Liability Rules

A summary of Tennessee's personal injury lawsuit filing deadlines, shared fault rules, and caps on damages.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After any kind of accident in Tennessee, from a car accident to a slip and fall, you might be thinking about filing an injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit. If so, understanding some of the state laws that might come into play can help demystify the process. In this article, we'll look at the Tennessee statute of limitations for injury-related lawsuits, how the state's shared fault rules could affect an injury claim, and other key personal injury laws.

What Is the Tennessee Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a strict limit on the amount of time you have to file a case in court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different deadlines for different kinds of cases.

Under Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-3-104, you have one year to file a lawsuit for "injuries to the person," so this deadline applies any time you're injured by someone else's negligent or intentional action and you want to file a lawsuit against them.

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline in Tennessee?

If more than a year has passed since the incident that led to your injury, but you try to file your lawsuit in Tennessee's court system anyway, it's a near certainty that the court will dismiss your case, and you'll be left without any kind of legal remedy for what happened. This is obviously a harsh result, but it only serves to illustrate the importance of understanding and complying with the statute of limitations. That's especially true in Tennessee, where the one-year filing deadline for personal injury cases is one of the shortest in the country.

Can the Statute of Limitations Be Extended In Tennessee?

In a few relatively rare situations, the running of the statute of limitations "clock" might be paused in Tennessee, effectively extending the lawsuit-filing deadline. For example:

  • If the injured person was under 18 or was "adjudicated incompetent," they'll likely be entitled to one full year to get any personal injury lawsuit filed once they reach 18 or have their competence restored. (Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-1-106.)
  • If the person who caused the injuries leaves the state before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the one-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-1-111.)
  • If criminal charges have been filed against the person who caused the injuries (if the lawsuit stems from an assault incident, for example), the personal injury lawsuit filing deadline might be extended to two years (Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-3-104(a)(2)).

Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Tennessee?

An experienced personal injury attorney will understand how and where to file your personal injury lawsuit. But generally speaking, these kinds of cases are filed in one of the trial courts in the state (which, as the name suggests, have the power to hear most civil court trials). That's usually a Circuit Court in the judicial district where the person you're suing lives, or where your injury occurred. Learn more about Tennessee trial courts (from tncourts.gov) and how to file a personal injury lawsuit.

If your injury-related losses ("damages") look like they'll add up to less than $25,000, you'll likely file your lawsuit in one of Tennessee's General Sessions Courts, which are "courts of limited jurisdiction" that can hear "small claims." Learn more about Tennessee's General Sessions Courts (from tncourts.gov).

What If I'm Partly at Fault for My Injury In Tennessee?

Tennessee follows a "modified comparative negligence" rule when the person filing an injury lawsuit also bears some level of fault for the incident that led to their injury. This rule can reduce or even eliminate the compensation that the injured person can receive from other at-fault parties.

How Does Tennessee's Comparative Negligence Rule Work?

Let's say you're sitting at a red light when your car is rear-ended by another vehicle. At the time of the accident, one of your car's brake lights wasn't working. You file a lawsuit in Tennessee's courts, and yours is one of the rare cases that makes it all the way to trial. The jury decides:

  • you were 10 percent at fault for the accident
  • the defendant (the other driver) is 90 percent at fault, and
  • your total damages add up to $30,000.

Here, Tennessee's modified comparative fault rule would apply to reduce your damages award by 10 percent, which matches the share of fault assigned to you. So, the judge would order the defendant to pay you $27,000 (your $30,000 total damages minus 10 percent, or $3,000).

As long as you're found to be less than 50 percent at fault, you can still recover compensation from other at-fault parties in Tennessee's courts. But if you're deemed 50 percent or more at fault for the accident that led to your injuries, you can't receive court-ordered compensation from anyone else.

Will Tennessee's Comparative Negligence Rule Apply to My Insurance Claim?

Technically, no. Tennessee courts are required to apply the state's comparative fault rule when figuring out a plaintiff's damages after a court judgment. But since insurance adjusters will negotiate an injury settlement based in part on what's likely to happen if the matter ends up in court, the state's shared fault rules will certainly play a part in the insurance company's approach to your claim.

Does Tennessee Have a Damages Cap for Personal Injury Cases?

Some states limit or "cap" the amount of money an injured person can receive in damages in court, even when their lawsuit is successful.

Tennessee caps non-economic damages in most personal injury cases at $750,000. Non-economic damages include compensation for physical and mental "pain and suffering" caused by the accident and the resulting injuries. This category of losses can really add up in a personal injury case, especially where the plaintiff's injuries are serious. Tenn. Code Ann. section 29-39-102.

Tennessee's non-economic damages cap for personal injury cases rises to $1 million in cases involving "catastrophic injury or loss," which according to section 29-39-102 means:

  • spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia
  • amputation of two hands, two feet or one of each
  • third degree burns over 40% or more of the body, or third degree burns up to 40% percent or more of the face, or
  • wrongful death of a parent leaving a surviving minor child or children.

Remember, these caps apply to all types of personal injury cases, resulting from any type of accident or intentional act. But there's no cap on "economic" damages in a personal injury case in Tennessee. So compensation for your past and future medical treatment, your lost income, and other financial harm resulting from your injuries isn't subject to any limit. Learn more about economic versus non-economic damages in personal injury cases.

Can I Make an Injury Claim Against the Tennessee Government?

If you believe that your injury resulted from the negligence of the state government, or one of its agencies or employees, you'll have to follow a special set of rules that apply specifically to injury claims involving the government. Learn more about filing a claim for government tort liability, from the state's Department of Treasury.

Get More Information on Personal Injury Cases

If you're looking for more details on how personal injury claims work and what to expect from the process, check out these articles:

For legal advice that's tailored to your specific situation in Tennessee, you might want to discuss your potential case with a personal injury lawyer.

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