Is There a Difference Between Personal and Property Injuries?
A car accident often involves more than one type of injury. There are the personal injuries suffered by the victim, who may seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, etc. Then there are injuries to property, i.e. the damage suffered by the victim’s car. While you may look at these damages as part of the same accident, they are distinct legal injuries subject to different rules under Tennessee law.
Insurance Company Waits Too Long to Collect on Personal Injury Claim
For one thing, Tennessee has a one-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, but a three-year limit for “torts involving property damage.” A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision explains the relevance of these differing limits. The case involved a two-car accident. One driver was insured; the other was not. The insured driver’s carrier paid over $40,000 in damages pursuant to an uninsured motorist rider.
The insurer then sued the uninsured driver to recover its costs. This is known as subrogation—the insurer has the legal right to pursue its customer’s personal injury claim when it has already paid out damages. Here, the insurer claimed the uninsured driver’s negligence caused the accident. The case was tried in a Tennessee circuit court, which determined the uninsured driver was 80 percent responsible for the accident. The court awarded the insurer approximately $16,000 in damages, which included both the personal injuries suffered by the insured driver and property damage to the vehicle.
The Court of Appeals partially reversed the trial court’s verdict. The appeals court found the insurer did not actually assert a personal injury claim until more than two years after the accident. This was well outside the one-year statute of limitations. Since the claim for property damages was filed within three years, however, that part of the judgment could stand. This reduced the insurance company’s award to just under $5,800.
The appeals court also upheld the trial court’s allocation of fault. The defendant argued both drivers should be held equally liable—which under Tennessee law would mean the insurer would recover nothing—because the insured driver “was distracted and inattentive at the time of the collision.” But as the appeals court explained, the defendant failed to obey a stop sign at the intersection where the accident occurred. She also crossed five lanes of highway traffic. This evidence supported the trial court’s decision to allocate most (but not all) of the fault to the defendant.
Speak to a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today
If you suffer any type of personal injury or property damage in a car accident, do not wait until it is too late to assert your legal rights. You should speak with a Knoxville personal injury lawyer right away. An attorney can help you gather all of the relevant information about an accident and advise you on the best course of action. Even if you think insurance will cover all of your injuries, you should still speak with an attorney. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville if you have any questions or concerns.