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What Constitutes “Negligence” In a Tennessee Car Accident?

If you are injured in a car accident, you might assume that the driver is legally responsible just because he or she admitted hitting you with their vehicle. But under Tennessee law, negligence requires more than this. A successful personal injury claim has several elements, each of which must be satisfied in order for the victim to prevail.

Court Reverses Personal Injury Award Due to Lack of Evidence

Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s verdict in favor of an accident victim precisely because of a failure to establish the required elements. The accident in this case involved a car and a female pedestrian. The pedestrian was walking on a sidewalk in Anderson County, Tennessee, when the defendant struck her with his car.

The pedestrian’s insurance company compensated her for her injuries. The insurer then sued the defendant seeking to recoup its losses. Although personal injury cases can be tried before a jury, here the parties opted for a bench trial, meaning the judge acted as the sole trier of fact. At trial, the defendant “acknowledged that he hit [the pedestrian] with his vehicle.” Based on this admission alone, the judge ruled in favor of the insurance company and awarded compensatory damages of $50,000.

On appeal, the defendant argued the judge’s verdict was not supported by substantial evidence. The Court of Appeals agreed. The appeals court explained there are multiple required elements for proving negligence in Tennessee: first, the defendant must owe a “duty of care” to the plaintiff; second, the defendant must have engaged in conduct that “falls below that standard of care”; finally, the defendant’s conduct must be the “proximate cause” of an “injury or loss” suffered by the plaintiff.

In this case, despite admitting he struck the pedestrian, the defendant argued the trial judge never found he breached an applicable duty of care. That is, the appeals court observed, “there was no evidence that his vehicle left the roadway or that he was not keeping a proper lookout for pedestrians.” The trial judge had a duty to “expressly determine” that the defendant was negligent. The judge’s failure to do so meant the verdict was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals threw out the verdict and the related award of damages to the insurance company.

Need Help From a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer?

There is never any such thing as “simple” accident case. While it may seem obvious to you that a driver was negligent and caused you significant pain and injury, a court requires evidence. You should never assume that your personal injury claim will succeed based on outward appearances.

An experienced Tennessee car accident attorney can assist you at every stage of a personal injury lawsuit, including investigating the underlying accident, preparing for trial, the actual litigation, and handling any subsequent appeals. If you have been injured in a car, truck, motorcycle, or pedestrian accident and require immediate legal assistance, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville right away.

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