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What Is Considered “Negligence Per Se” in a Tennessee Car Accident?


A critical element in any personal injury case is proving the defendant was negligent. If the defendant’s actions violated a state or local law, it may constitute “negligence per se.” In a car accident, for example, a defendant who goes against the “rules of the road” and injures someone else as a result is considered negligent per se.

Crossing a Double-Yellow Line Not Always a Traffic Violation

Establishing the rules of the road is not always as simple as you might think. Something that might seem like “common sense” to you may be less so to a judge or jury. A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision offers a helpful illustration.

This case involved a two-car accident that took place in Davidson County. The defendant made a left-hand to enter a gas station. In doing so, he crossed into the plaintiff’s lane of traffic and hit the rear, passenger side of the plaintiff’s car.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages. She argued the defendant committed negligence per se by illegally crossing a “double-yellow line” when he made his left-hand turn. However, the police officer who responded at the scene of the accident did not cite the defendant for violating any rules of the road, even though he later testified in court that it is illegal to cross a road median, which he said included the double-yellow line.

The judge disallowed the plaintiff’s argument on this point, however, and entered a directed verdict for the defendant on the issue of negligence per se. After considering the rest of the evidence, a jury returned a verdict finding the plaintiff was 75 percent responsible for the accident. Since Tennessee’s modified comparative faults law bars a plaintiff from recovering damages if he is 50 percent or more at-fault, the court entered judgment for the defendant.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial judge should have allowed her to present evidence that crossing a double-yellow line constitutes negligence per se. The Court of Appeals said the judge did not make a mistake. The appeals court noted the plaintiff failed to cite “any statute or ordinance that prohibits a driver from making a left turn across a double-yellow line to enter a private drive or business entrance,” as the defendant did here when he went into the gas station.

The Court of Appeals noted that under Tennessee traffic laws, a driver is required to stay on the “right side of the roadway” under normal conditions. But once a driver decides to exit the roadway, this rule no longer applies. The plaintiff therefore was not entitled to argue negligence per se based on the double-yellow line crossing. (It should be noted that the plaintiff alleged four other “rules of the road” violations by the defendant, all of which the jury considered and rejected.)

Have You Been Injured in a Car Accident Caused by Driver Negligence?

Establishing negligence is often the most difficult part of a car accident lawsuit. An experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney can offer invaluable assistance in helping you pursue a negligent driver and obtaining the compensation you deserve. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers today.



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