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Can Both Drivers Be Held Responsible for a Car Accident?

When you get into a car accident, your first instinct is often to blame the other driver. And of course, the other driver thinks you caused the accident. If this finger pointing leads to personal injury litigation, it is then up to a jury to figure out who was actually responsible.

And in many cases the jury will decide both drivers were at fault, at least to some degree. Tennessee law empowers a civil jury to allocate fault in personal injury cases. Determining fault is a question of fact, which means appeals courts are reluctant to second-guess a jury’s verdict in this area. As the Tennessee Court of Appeals has observed, “Challenging a jury’s allocation of fault is the legal equivalent of a ‘Hail Mary’ pass.”

Here is an example of what this means in practice. This case presented a typical scenario: A two-car accident where the drivers provided the only eyewitness testimony. The defendant was stopped in traffic in the eastbound lane of a three-lane road. The defendant was near an intersection. On the other side of the intersection, the plaintiff exited a parking lot and turned into the center lane of the road, intending to turn at the intersection. As the plaintiff approached the intersection, the defendant moved into the center lane, also intending to execute a turn. The defendant did not see the plaintiff’s vehicle from behind, and the defendant’s front bumper hit the right side of the plaintiff’s car.

Both drivers spoke with a police officer shortly after the accident. Neither driver reported any injuries at the time, but a surgeon later diagnosed the plaintiff with a torn meniscus in his leg, which required multiple surgeries. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant for $750,000 in damages, claiming he was responsible for the accident.

After a three-day trial, a jury in Hamilton County Circuit Court determined each driver was 50% at fault. The trial judge denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial and entered the jury’s verdict. The plaintiff then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

But the Court of Appeals was no more inclined to second-guess the jury than the trial court. “[I]n reviewing a judgment based on a jury verdict, we are not at liberty to weigh the evidence or decide where the preponderance lies,” the appeals court explained in its opinion dismissing the plaintiff’s appeal. In cases like these, the appeals court’s only function is to determine whether there is “any material evidence” to support the verdict, meaning all inferences drawn from such evidence must be construed in favor of whatever the jury decided at trial.

Here, the jury only heard from the two drivers, and their testimony allowed the jury to conclude the plaintiff “had sufficient room to avoid [the defendant’s] truck without a collision and that his failure to do so was caused either by his speed or lack of attention.” The Court of Appeals said this provided a reasonable basis for the jury’s ultimate 50/50 allocation of fault.

The Importance of Retaining an Attorney

Cases like these illustrate the importance of working with qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyers. If you have been in a car accident and suffered serious injuries as a result, you need advice from attorneys experienced in investigating accidents, speaking with witnesses, and trying cases in court. Contact the attorneys at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette today if you need to speak someone right away.

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