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Fox Farley Willis & Burnette Attorneys At Law
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Understanding Comparative fault in Tennessee Accident Cases


In many kinds of accidents, there can be multiple people responsible for the injury that the victim sustains. One party that may bear some responsibility is the victim himself. Like many states, Tennessee allows a jury to find that the victim did something or failed to do something that contributed to his or her own injuries.

As you can imagine, this ends up in a lot of second guessing the victim, with the defendant often asking why the victim didn’t look here, or observe this, or why the victim went somewhere, wore certain clothes, or why the victim didn’t appreciate the dangers of the situation, and take measures to avoid it.

These measures are sometimes successful and sometimes not. The key in Tennessee is making sure that these techniques aren’t too successful.

Why Comparative Fault Matters

There are two “harms” that come when a jury finds that a victim is partially responsible for the accident that caused the injury. The first harm is that a verdict is reduced by the amount that the jury finds the victim is responsible for his or her own injuries.

Let’s say that you suffer a fall in a store. The jury finds that because you weren’t paying attention, you bear 20% of the responsibility for the fall. Using rough numbers, if the jury finds your injury is worth $100,000, you will only be awarded $80,000—20% of your award is taken away from you, to account for the percentage that you are responsible for the accident.

This can be a bitter pill for an injury victim to take. But it gets even worse.

Under Tennessee law, if a victim bears 49% or more responsibility for his or her own injury, the victim gets nothing. So, if you are 50% liable for an injury that is worth $10,000, $100,000 or $1 million—it doesn’t matter how much—you would end up with a net verdict of zero.

Different States, Different Comparative Fault Rules

Many states use different systems that award people based on their percentage of fault, no matter what the percentage split is (these states use what is known as “pure comparative fault”). In those systems, even if a victim were to be 98% responsible for his or her injuries, the victim could still recover 2% of the amount the jury awards. However, Tennessee is not that kind of state.

This rule is why a defendant in a Tennessee injury case doesn’t have to win the case, to win the case.

The defendant can be liable, by a significant percentage, and still walk away from the case owing nothing to the victim. Defendants know this, and will often admit they have some responsibility for an accident—but not enough responsibility to owe anything to the accident victim.

Call the Clinton personal injury attorneys at Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, can help you understand what to expect in your injury trial.


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