Negligence Definition Under Tennessee State Law

In Tennessee, negligence occurs when an individual’s actions (or inactions) result in harm or damage to another person.

In order to fit this negligence definition, the defendant’s actions are examined against the standard of the reasonable person. The reasonable person standard compares the defendant’s actions with the actions that a typical person (or most other people in a community) would take in the same circumstance.

In the case of a car accident, the court will explore how a typical, reasonable person would have acted in the same situation, and ask whether that person would have responded in the same way the defendant did.

If the answer is “no,” the court can find the defendant negligent in this case.

What are the elements of negligence in Tennessee?

Proving negligence in court requires establishing five essential elements.

  • Duty of care: the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
  • Breach of duty: the defendant breached his or her duty of care
  • Causation: the defendant’s breach of duty caused harm to the plaintiff
  • Prediction of consequences: the defendant should have foreseen the harm their breach of duty could cause
  • Damages: the plaintiff suffered actual damage as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty

The duty of care element is situation-specific, and refers back to the reasonable person standard. When driving a car, for example, a reasonable person might understand that exceeding the speed limit by 20 miles per hour in a school construction zone could foreseeably cause harm to others. Consequently, a driver has a duty of care to adhere to the law in this situation.

If the defendant nevertheless exceeded the speed limit by 20 miles per hour and, as a result, caused harm to another, he or she would likely have breached the duty of care.

How is negligence addressed in Tennessee case law?

In Fults v. Hastings, 1988 WL 54306 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988), the court established three degrees of negligence in Tennessee:

This case also established that, in Tennessee, willful and wanton conduct lies somewhere on the continuum between degrees of negligence, depending on the elements of the case.

When addressing the concept of negligence under Tennessee law, ordinary negligence is indicated unless the court finds the defendant’s conduct to be grossly negligent.

How can I prove negligence in a Tennessee car accident case?

Tennessee statutes use a modified comparative fault system in establishing degrees of negligence. This means that damages are calculated and awarded based on the degree to which the court assigns fault to each party. If the injured party did not contribute to the incident, the court would award full damages. If the victim had 20 percent fault, the court would only award 80 percent of the total damages.

If, however, the injured party contributed 50 percent or more to the incident, he or she cannot collect any damages.

In Tennessee, car accident and injury awards rely on the attorney’s ability to establish the five key elements of negligence. Unless your case clearly demonstrates these elements, the court is unlikely to impose the appropriate compensation for your injuries.

Our statutes and legal system require that your accident injury lawyer to build a compelling case on your behalf, if you are to prevail. Collecting evidence, witness statements, and other relevant information will help protect your rights to compensation under the law.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC specialize in Tennessee car accident injury cases. Contact our office today to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your case.