Originating from the concepts of common law, torts are defined as wrongful actions that violate a private duty of care, the result of which harms an individual or their property. Tort law refers to civil, rather than criminal, matters.
Three types of torts are recognized in Tennessee:
- Intentional, where the defendant caused harm on purpose;
- Negligent, where the defendant caused harm through carelessness or negligence; and
- Strict liability, where the defendant need not have been careless, negligent, or intentional in causing harm.
Under Tennessee tort law, an injured party may take legal action to obtain compensation for their damages. Although the court can find liability even if no harm was caused, the plaintiff must demonstrate actual damages to receive compensation in a personal injury tort.
How does Tennessee tort law differ from criminal law?
As compared to torts, which violate a private duty, crimes are wrongful actions that violate a public duty of care. However, any action can be a tort as well as a crime under Tennessee tort law.
An individual who violates a public duty of care is referred to as a criminal. An individual who violates a private duty of care is known as a tortfeasor (or tort-feasor).
What is the current state of tort reform in Tennessee?
You have likely heard the phrase “tort reform” in the news, especially because Tennessee lawmakers have been preoccupied with it for decades. In this context, tort reform seeks to reduce the potential damages that the courts may award to harmed parties, particularly from businesses and commercial concerns.
In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed a broad tort reform package intended to reduce the burden on businesses. The action, known as the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011,” did so by limiting how much money the courts could force a company to compensate an injured party if the business was found to have violated Tennessee tort laws.
This bill limited non-economic damages to $750,000 for most cases. In some limited cases involving intentional harm, impairment, or catastrophic injury, a higher limit of $1,000,000 is permissible.
In 2015, a circuit judge ruled that these limits were unconstitutional. The defendant in question appealed the ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court but the Court refused to hear the argument. Consequently, the matter remains in a state of flux. The legal community expects the lively debate over tort reform in Tennessee to continue well into the future.
How does Tennessee tort law influence car accident cases?
In Nash-Wilson Funeral Home, Inc. v. Greer, 417 S.W.2d 562 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1966), citing Hale v. Rayburn, [264 S.W.2d 230], the court established an important detail of the private duty of care when operating a motor vehicle. This ruling set forth that a driver must “keep a reasonably careful lookout for traffic upon the highway commensurate with the dangerous character of the vehicle and the nature of the locality.”
In this case, a female driver entered an intersection with the right-of-way (a green traffic light), at which time an ambulance ran the red and struck the driver. Although the driver had a green light, the court found that she had a private duty of care to be alert for other vehicles—such as the ambulance—that may pose a threat.
In other words, a green light represents lawful permission to proceed but not a command to proceed under any circumstances.
This example represents the many complex factors that influence Tennessee tort law definition. Understanding how statutes and case law may affect your right to compensation after a car accident requires the assistance of a local car accident lawyer.
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a car accident, contact the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC. A complimentary consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys can help you choose the right course of action for your Tennessee car accident case. Call us today at 865-546-1111.