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According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, there were 185,430 car accidents in the state in 2022. Of these incidents, 46,335 caused serious injuries, and 1,242 were fatal. Tennessee has a 1.61 fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2022, compared to the 1.30 national average. 

Car accidents can be traumatic experiences, but knowing the laws in your state can make a big difference in how you handle the aftermath. If you live in Tennessee, it's important to understand the state's car accident laws. In this article, we'll cover some key aspects of Tennessee car accident laws, insurance requirements, how to determine fault in claims, and your options if you wish to file a lawsuit. Whether you're a Tennessee resident or just passing through the state, having a basic understanding of these laws can help you protect your rights and navigate the legal system more effectively.

Tennessee Hands-Free Law

The Tennessee 2020 Crash Facts Packet notes that distracted drivers caused 23,815 car accidents in 2020. Drivers not paying attention while driving were a reason for 62.1% of crashes.

The Hands-Free Law in Tennessee went into effect on July 1, 2019. The law says drivers cannot hold or physically support a phone or other electronic device while driving. This includes sending, receiving, or reading text messages, using the internet, or making phone calls while holding the device.

By law, drivers can use their phones for navigation, but only if the device is mounted on the dashboard or windshield and the driver uses voice commands or a single touch to turn it on. The law doesn't apply to people in the emergency services or drivers who report an accident or safety hazard on the road.

Breaking the law is a Class C misdemeanor; you will get a $50 fine the first time. The fines for repeat offenses have increased from $100 to $200. In some cases, people who break the law may also be required to take a driver's education course.

Slow Down Tennessee Law

Speeding was a factor in 14.7% of fatal crashes in the state in 2020, and hitting another car on the same road or colliding into a fence or guardrail are the two most dangerous things that can happen.

Tennessee's speeding laws are meant to keep people safe by setting maximum speeds for different kinds of roads and penalizing drivers who exceed these limits. Under Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-153, the maximum speed limit on interstate highways is 70 mph and 65 mph on all other public roads.

According to traffic and engineering studies, the Tennessee Department of Transportation can lower the speed limit on highways below the maximum set by law. This includes state highways and bridges.

Radar and other speed-measuring technology, as well as police officers who can monitor traffic, all play a role in Tennessee's enforcement of speeding laws. You can get fines, points on your driver's license, or even jail time for breaking the law. For example, driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit is a Class B misdemeanor, resulting in up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Tennessee Click It Or Ticket Seat Belt Law

Tennessee's Seat Belt Law requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts while operating or riding in a motor vehicle. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-9-603 applies to all vehicles on public roads. The seat belt law in Tennessee follows primary enforcement, which means law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle solely for a seat belt violation.

Failure to comply with this law can result in a traffic violation, which carries a fine of $25 for the first violation and up to $50 for the second and subsequent violations. Additionally, if a passenger is under 16 and not wearing a seat belt, the driver may be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $50 and up to 30 days in jail, per Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-9-602.

Tennessee Child Passenger Safety Law

Tennessee has child passenger safety laws, as stated in Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-9-602. It requires children under the age of one or weighing less than 20 pounds to be properly secured in a rear-facing child safety seat. Children between the ages of one and three, or weighing between 20 and 40 pounds, must be secured in a forward-facing child safety seat. Children between the ages of four and eight, or between 40 and 80 pounds, must be secured in either a forward-facing child safety seat or a booster seat. Violating these child safety seat laws can result in a $50 fine.

Tennessee Impaired Driving Law

Drunk drivers were involved in 7,332 car accidents in 2020, and drugs and alcohol were factors in 10% of the fatal accidents. Tennessee's Impaired Driving Law says that people can't drive a car if they are under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any other substance, which makes them less capable of driving safely. Tennessee's DUI laws are among the toughest in the nation, and penalties for DUI convictions can be severe.

According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-401, a person commits the offense of DUI if he or she is driving or in physical control of a vehicle and is under the influence of any intoxicant, including marijuana, controlled substances, or any other drug that affects the person's ability to drive. Additionally, if a blood or breath test indicates a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, they may face DUI charges.

DUI is considered a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense, carrying a minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail or seven days of community service. The maximum sentence is 11 months and 29 days in jail; fines can range from $350 to $1,500. Subsequent DUI offenses carry increasingly severe penalties, including longer jail sentences, fines of up to $15,000, and forfeiture or seizure of the offender's vehicle.

Tennessee also has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-415, a person under the age of 21 commits the offense of underage DUI if they operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher. Underage DUI penalties include a one-year license suspension, a $250 fine, and community service.

Drivers are also subject to the state's implied consent law, which says that anyone driving a car on Tennessee roads is considered to have agreed to a chemical test of their blood, breath, or urine to check for drugs or alcohol if they are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence or a related offense.

Tennessee Hit and Run Law

Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-101 says that leaving the scene of an accident is a serious crime that can lead to criminal charges and civil liability.

Drivers in an accident must stop their cars as close to the scene as possible and give the other driver or drivers their name, address, and vehicle registration number. They must also do what they can to help anyone hurt in the accident, including ensuring that medical help is available.

If only property is damaged in the accident, the driver must take reasonable steps to find the owner of the damaged property and give them their information. If the owner can't be found, the driver must leave a note at the accident scene with their information.

You could be charged with a Class C or Class A misdemeanor if you don't stop and give information. If the accident causes serious injuries or death, it is considered a Class E felony, which could lead to up to six years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

Drivers who leave the scene of an accident may be held civilly responsible for any damage or injuries they cause and face criminal charges. People who are hurt in hit-and-run accidents may be able to get money for their injuries, lost wages, and property damage.

Tennessee Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements

In Tennessee, if you want to drive a car legally, you must have a certain amount of car insurance. The minimum auto insurance requirements include the following:

  • $25,000 per person in bodily injury liability coverage and $50,000 per accident

  • $15,000 property damage liability coverage per accident

Body injury liability insurance helps pay for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses caused by injuries to other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. On the other hand, property damage liability is meant to cover the costs of fixing or replacing other drivers' cars and any other damaged property. Drivers can also buy coverage for uninsured/underinsured drivers and collisions.

People who break the law could get a fine, have their driver's license taken, or have their cars taken away.

Tennessee Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims

In Tennessee, car accident insurance claims are based on who was at fault. This means that the person found responsible for the crash will have to pay for the damage the accident caused. The at-fault driver's insurance will cover the cost of the other driver's medical bills and property damage. Expenses like these arise from injuries, lost wages, and property damage.

In some situations, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident may dispute the amount of damage or injuries claimed by the other party. This could lead to legal action. Both sides should hire an experienced lawyer to protect their rights and best interests when this happens.

Tennessee Is a Modified Comparative State for Car Accident Lawsuits

Tennessee uses a modified comparative negligence system for car insurance claims, where a percentage of fault is assigned to each driver based on how much they were to blame for a car accident.

If a driver is found to be less than 50% responsible for an accident under the modified comparative negligence system, their insurance company may be able to compensate them for the damage they suffered. But if a person is found to be 50% or more responsible for the accident, they may be unable to get money for their injuries.

If a person is found to be partly to blame for the crash, their compensation may be reduced by the percentage of fault placed on them. For example, drivers with 20% responsibility will have their compensation cut by 20%.

It's important to know that hiring a car accident lawyer can help figure out how much fault each person has and help negotiate a fair settlement with the other driver's insurance company.

Tennessee Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents

The statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Tennessee, based on Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1), is one year from the accident date. This means that those who have suffered injuries in a car accident that was the fault of another party have a year to file a lawsuit for damages. If a lawsuit isn't filed within the time limit, the court may throw it out, making it impossible for the plaintiff to get compensation.

Although Tennessee has a one-year statute of limitations for car accidents, there are some exceptions. For example, if the at-fault driver was a government employee acting within the scope of their employment, injured victims may have a shorter time limit to file a claim.

Additionally, for actions concerning personal property damage, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-105(1) states the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the accident. 

Talking to an experienced personal injury lawyer is important to determine the statute of limitations most applicable to your case.

Average Settlement for Tennessee Car Accident Lawsuits

Settlements for car accidents in Tennessee depend on several variables, such as the severity of the injuries, the amount of property damage, and how the accident has changed the plaintiff's life. Settlements may involve negotiations between the plaintiff's attorney and the defendant's insurance company. These negotiations may focus on medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses related to the accident.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 has set limits on non-economic damages: 

  • $750,000 in non-economic damages for most injuries 

  • $1,000,000 non-economic damages cap for catastrophic loss or injury

  • Non-economic damages are prohibited for property damage claims.

Talking to an attorney can help car accident victims understand their legal options and fight for the money they deserve. The state has capped attorney contingency fees at 33.3% of the total settlement. 

Legal Resources for Tennessee Car Accident Victims

Tennessee Comprehensive Driver License Manual

A publication by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to assist individuals in obtaining and maintaining a driver's license. It covers a wide selection of topics related to safe driving, including traffic laws, road signs and signals, and defensive driving techniques.

Pro Bono Legal Aid Services in Tennessee

An online resource by the Tennessee Bar Association that provides legal support to car accident victims in Tennessee who may not have the means to hire a private attorney for legal guidance and representation. It helps with filing insurance claims, negotiating settlements, and representing clients in court if necessary.

  • Contact Number: (615) 383 7421

Tennessee Car Insurance Guide

A comprehensive document prepared by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance containing the information Tennessee drivers need to make smart decisions about their auto insurance coverage. It explains the types of coverage available, how to choose the right coverage, and what to do in the event of an accident. 

Tennessee 511 Traffic Advisories

An online traveler information system that provides up-to-date information about road conditions, traffic congestion, and construction projects. The system is available 24/7 and can be accessed via phone, website, or mobile app. It aims to help drivers plan their routes more effectively, avoid delays, and stay safe on the roads. 

  • Contact Number: 551 or (877) 244 0065

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