Tennessee Car Accident Laws
Understanding Tennessee car accident laws is important to protect your interests if you’re ever involved in a crash. Many statutes govern auto insurance requirements, when a collision should be reported, and what legal remedies are available when someone is hurt or killed in an accident.
There’s good reason to learn these laws now. Tennessee has seen a 24 percent spike in injury and fatal car accidents over the last decade, according to data from the state Department of Highway Safety and Homeland Security. Insurance industry estimates suggest that a person will be involved in at least three to four crashes during his or her lifetime.
Any car accident has the potential to cause injuries. There may come a time when you or someone you love will need to file an injury claim with an insurance company to collect compensation. You’ll improve your chances of recovering a full and fair settlement if you’ve followed the law.
If you’ve been hurt in a crash, talk to a Chattanooga car accident lawyer at Davis Firm, LLC. For more than 25 years, our team has fought relentlessly for the rights of accident victims throughout Chattanooga and the surrounding Tennessee areas. Call or contact us for a free consultation today.
Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in Tennessee
Every state has a statute of limitations, or deadline, to file certain legal claims. In Tennessee, car accident victims have one year to file a claim for compensation. Typically, that’s 12 months from the date of the accident.
However, some injuries don’t appear immediately after a crash. The statute of limitations accounts for that by allowing victims to file a claim from the date they discover (or reasonably should have discovered) that they were hurt.
There are a few other exceptions. The statute of limitations can be extended (or “tolled”) if the crash victim is:
- A minor: A child who was injured in a car wreck has one year after his or her 18th birthday to file a claim against the at-fault party.
- Incapacitated: In Tennessee, victims who are mentally or physically incompetent after a car accident are allowed to have the statute of limitations tolled until they have recovered enough to represent themselves. The clock starts ticking one year after they regain competency. To avoid missing the deadline, talk to a car accident lawyer about what it means to be declared “competent” in Tennessee.
It’s critical not to miss the deadline for filing a car accident claim. Once the time limit expires, you will be barred from seeking compensation forever.
Negligence Laws in Tennessee
A successful injury claim in Tennessee depends on proving that the responsible party was negligent in some way. Negligence occurs when someone acts (or fails to act) in a responsible way and another person is hurt by their carelessness.
There are four elements of negligence that must be proven in order to recover compensation:
- Duty of care: Drivers have a duty to take all reasonable measures to avoid a car accident. For example, they have a duty to avoid texting while driving because distracted driving puts others at risk.
- Breach: Motorists who violate traffic rules breach their duty to others. In the example described above, a texting driver is breaking the law in Tennessee.
- Causation: Evidence must show that the at-fault party’s actions directly caused the injury(s). Continuing the example, an injured individual would need to supply proof that the driver’s texting directly caused the wreck. This might come from witness statements, video footage captured by traffic signals and nearby businesses, and/or cell phone records.
- Damages: The victim must establish that he or she suffered financial damages that can be repaid through a fair award of compensation.
You must prove all four components of negligence in order to win your accident claim. A car accident lawyer can help ensure that you have the evidence necessary to present a convincing case for maximum compensation.
Is Tennessee a No-Fault or At-Fault State?
Tennessee is an at-fault state when it comes to motor vehicle accidents. A handful of states operate under a no-fault system, where people would turn to their own insurance companies to recover compensation for an accident. In no-fault states, it can be challenging to obtain compensation from an at-fault party unless the victim suffers serious injuries that meet certain thresholds set by state law.
Not so in Tennessee. Here, accident victims seek compensation through the insurance company of the liable party(s) first. First, a claim is submitted to the insurance company. An adjuster reviews the claim and then determines whether to offer a settlement.
Here are some things you need to know about Tennessee auto insurance claims:
- The insurance company is not your friend. No matter how sympathetic adjusters sound, they represent the insurance company’s interests first, not yours. They are trained in tactics intended to minimize, delay, or even dismiss your claim altogether — and they’re good at their jobs.
- Settlements are negotiable. You never have to accept the first settlement offer you receive. It will always be too low. That’s why you should speak to an experienced car accident lawyer. An attorney will know how to put a proper dollar value on your claim so that you aren’t shortchanged. A lawyer can also handle all talks with the insurance company so that you don’t have to wonder whether you’re getting a good deal.
- You can be compensated even if you share blame for the crash. Tennessee’s comparative negligence law allows injured people to collect compensation even if they are partly responsible for an accident. However, the ability to recover compensation depends on what percentage of fault the victim is assigned for the crash. Damages are then reduced by the victim’s own portion of fault. You can still collect compensation as long as you are 49 percent or less responsible for a car accident in Tennessee.
One of the key ways that insurance companies try to reduce their payouts is by claiming that drivers share more fault for the car accident than they actually do. A good lawyer knows how to determine liability and can defend you from unfair claims of fault.
Who Can File a Claim in TN?
Anyone hurt in a car crash can file a personal injury claim in Tennessee. That comes as a surprise to some people, especially if they believe they are fully at fault for an accident. In these cases, it’s especially important to talk to an attorney. An investigation could reveal that multiple parties are actually responsible for the collision.
In fatal car accidents, the victim’s surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. Like car accident injury claims, there is a one-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in Tennessee.
Car Insurance Laws
Tennessee drivers must abide by the state’s car insurance laws. They must purchase auto liability insurance to cover bodily injuries amounting to at least these minimums:
- $25,000 for each injury or death per accident
- $50,000 for total injury or death per accident
- $15,000 in property damage per accident
You also have the option to purchase another type of insurance: uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). This important type of coverage protects you if you’re in a crash with a driver who has no insurance or not enough insurance to cover the cost of your damages. In either of these cases, you can use your own insurance policy’s UM/UIM coverage to recoup losses not covered due to the at-fault driver’s lack of proper insurance.
Although UM/UIM is optional in Tennessee, Davis Firm, LLC, strongly recommends that drivers purchase this coverage. One report found that at least 20 percent of Tennessee drivers are uninsured, which could force you to pay out of pocket if you don’t have UM/UIM as part of your policy.
Is a Police Report Required?
All accidents that involve an injury, death or more than $50 in property damage must be reported in Tennessee. With such a low property damage threshold, that likely means most crashes should be reported to law enforcement.
A police report is a useful piece of evidence in a car accident claim. It provides an outside record of what happened and can also include the officer’s assessment of who is at fault.
With that said, a police report is not required in order for an insurer to begin reviewing your claim or making a settlement offer. You may need to present more proof in order to make up for the missing information, though.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?
Not all accidents require a lawyer’s help. If you were in a fender bender with little property damage and no injuries, you can probably get a fair settlement without legal counsel. However, you should always contact a car accident lawyer if:
- Someone was injured or killed.
- There are disputes over who is at fault.
- The insurance company denies your claim.
- You believe the settlement offer is unfair.
Most car accident attorneys, including Davis Firm, LLC, offer free consultations. There’s no fee to get answers to your questions, so there’s nothing to lose by checking out your legal options.
Don’t Miss Out— Contact Davis Firm, LLC Today to Get Started
Anyone who has been involved in a car accident in Tennessee deserves to know their legal rights. At Davis Firm, LLC, our lawyers are dedicated to protecting the interests of injured people. If you’re in need of top-quality legal advice, client service, and vigorous representation, look no further than our Chattanooga law firm. Founder Scott N. Davis has successfully tried more than 200 cases to verdict, bringing justice to accident victims when they need it most.
To learn more about how we can help, call or contact us today for a free consultation. There’s no fee unless we win.