Negligence Per Se Definition Under Tennessee State Law

Negligence per se describes a situation where an action is considered negligent by definition if it breaks a law intended to protect the public. If a plaintiff is alleging negligence per se, he or she has to prove the defendant violated a law or regulation; negligence is implied through the act of violating the law. This includes laws specifically written to keep the public safe, such as many public safety and traffic laws that may apply in auto accident cases.

But the defendant’s violation of law alone is not enough to hold the defendant negligent per se. In order to prove negligence per se, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following:

  • The defendant broke a law.
  • The law exists to keep members of a certain class of people safe.
  • The plaintiff belongs to the class of people protected by the law.
  • The plaintiff suffered the kind of injury the law is intended to prevent.
  • The defendant’s action is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

For example, if a person found to be driving drunk strikes and injures a pedestrian, negligence may be implied in the offense of drunk driving. By choosing to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, that illegal act makes the defendant negligent under the concept of negligence per se.

But the plaintiff would also have to prove the defendant’s conduct caused their injuries. If the defendant’s violation of the law was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, then the plaintiff may not argue negligence per se.

For example, in Rains v. Bend of the River, 124 S.W.3d 580 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003), the parents of an 18-year-old man alleged a retailer, Bend of the River, that sold the man ammunition was negligent per se for the man’s suicide because it sold ammunition to a person under 21. But the Appeals Court found that the man’s act of suicide “was the independent intervening cause of his death,” and thus ordered the trial court to dismiss the claim against Bend of the River. In this case, the plaintiffs were unable to prove the defendant’s violation of law caused the victim’s suicide.

Contact us to learn more about how negligence and negligence per se work specifically in your Knoxville auto accident case. If you are the victim of an accident, an attorney with the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod and Baril, PLLC, can help you secure the compensation you deserve. Call 865-546-1111 to schedule a free consultation.