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What If a Jury Finds I Am Partly to Blame for a Car Accident?

In a car accident lawsuit, the defendant will often try to place at least some of the blame on the plaintiff or victim. There is an important legal reason for doing this. Tennessee adheres to what is known as a “modified comparative fault” rule in negligence cases. This means that if the defendant can show that the plaintiff was at least 50 percent responsible for the accident, said plaintiff cannot recover any damages from the defendant.

Speeding Not Enough to Hold Plaintiff 50 Percent Responsible for Accident

Here is a recent example illustrating the application of modified comparative fault. This case actually involved three drivers, although only two were parties to the litigation. The defendant was driving a truck. At an intersection in Franklin County, Tennessee, the defendant failed to obey a stop sign. The plaintiff, who had the right-of-way at the intersection, swerved to avoid the defendant’s truck and ended up colliding with the third driver’s vehicle.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence. The defendant argued the plaintiff was speeding through the intersection and therefore should be held at least 50 percent responsible for the accident and barred from recovering any damages. Following a two-day trial, a jury decided the plaintiff was 60 percent responsible for the accident. Since the plaintiff’s comparative fault was therefore only 40 percent, he was entitled to recover damages. The jury calculated the plaintiff’s economic losses at $202,000 and his non-economic damages at $131,000. The judge then apportioned 60 percent of the total–$199,800–and entered a final judgment for the defendant.

On appeal, the defendant maintained the jury was wrong and that the plaintiff’s comparative fault was equal or greater than his own. The Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected this argument. Although the evidence at trial suggested the plaintiff was traveling about 13 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, the appeals court said the jury was still well within its discretion to apportion just 40 percent of the blame to the plaintiff.

The Court of Appeals also dismissed the defendant’s challenge to one portion of the jury’s damage award calculation. The jury awarded the plaintiff a total of $120,000 for past and future “loss of earning capacity.” Prior to the accident, the plaintiff worked in the roof and siding business. After the accident, he was unable to resume this work due to his injuries. At trial, the plaintiff testified that he was earning “about $400 or $500” per week. This was sufficient evidence, the appeals court said, to establish a baseline for the jury’s calculation of economic damages.

Get Help From a Tennessee Car Accident Lawyer

Before you bring a lawsuit related to a car accident, it is essential to understand how your own actions may be used against you at trial. An experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney can help you investigate the accident and ascertain your potential comparative fault. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you have been in any type of accident and require immediate professional assistance.

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