Can I Recover Nothing Even If the Other Driver Caused the Accident?
If you bring a personal injury lawsuit arising from a car accident, it is not enough to establish the defendant’s liability. Even if the defendant admits causing the accident, the plaintiff must still prove he or she suffered injuries requiring compensation. It is perfectly acceptable under Tennessee law for a defendant to be held liable yet the plaintiff recovers nothing.
No Proof, No Damages
Here is an example. In this case, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car stopped at an intersection in Washington County, Tennessee. The defendant’s vehicle made contact with the rear of the stopped car. Neither car appeared to suffer any damage based on the parties’ inspection at the accident scene. Nor did the plaintiff seek any medical attention at the scene, although she was later checked out at a local hospital.
The plaintiff later sued the defendant, claiming the accident caused serious injuries to her neck and back. She also asked for $2,000 in damages allegedly sustained to her vehicle. The defendant admitted responsibility for the accident, so the only issue for the jury was whether the plaintiff was entitled to any damages.
Ultimately, the jury decided she was not. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, which later affirmed the jury’s verdict awarding no damages, cited a number of deficiencies in the plaintiff’s case. First, although she alleged serious neck and back injuries, the plaintiff testified she never sought any medical treatment in the three years between the accident and the trial. Second, while the plaintiff also claimed she could not work for several months due to the accident, her employment records showed she never missed a day of work. Third, there was no evidence of any repairs made to the plaintiff’s vehicle; to the contrary, photographs from the accident scene confirmed there was no physical damage to either car. Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to allege any damage to her car in her initial complaint, and only added the claim more than two years into her lawsuit.
Not only did the appeals court agree the plaintiff was entitled to no damages, she was further ordered to pay the defendant’s “discretionary costs” incurred in connection with the lawsuit. As the court explained, even though the defendant admitted liability for the accident, she was still the “prevailing party” in the overall litigation and therefore entitled to recover costs.
Get Medical (and Legal) Help Following an Accident
The most important lesson from the case above is you must always properly document any injury—whether to yourself or your vehicle—following a car accident. A jury is not going to just take your word for it. And by the time a case gets to trial, it is too late to start gathering your proof.
In addition to seeking immediate medical attention and proper documentation of the scene following an accident, you should speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette in Clinton and Knoxville can advise you on all types of accident and personal injury cases. Contact our offices today if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.