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Accidents in Tennessee are not uncommon. Over 185,000 motor vehicle accidents occurred in 2022 alone; around a quarter resulted in injuries. State data also showed that the non-fatal workplace injury rate in 2021 was 2.5 per 100 full-time workers, slightly better than the national average of 2.7. 

Experiencing an accident is stressful. There are multiple hurdles you need to overcome. You might need to file a police report. Additionally, you might have to contact your insurance provider to obtain damages for your injuries. In some cases, you need more than the compensation you can receive. Filing a personal injury claim against liable parties is a viable solution to help you recover the damages you deserve. You should also know that other Tennesseans are in the same boat as you. More than 9,700 claims for damages were filed between 2021 and 2022. 

This article provides information on your legal rights in various situations. It also guides you through Tennessee’s statute of limitations and its caps on damages. This article also has a list of resources that can aid you in filing claims. 

Tennessee Product Liability Laws

Poisoning was the leading cause of preventable deaths in the state in 2021, according to the National Safety Council. Most of the deaths that came from poisoning were driven by opioid drugs

Medications can be defective and lead to injury or death. As such, its sellers or manufacturers may face lawsuits over their unreasonably dangerous products. Under state law, goods are unreasonably dangerous if they are more harmful than users may reasonably expect. It additionally refers to products that would otherwise not be offered for sale by reasonably prudent sellers or manufacturers. 

If the item was deemed defective when it left the retailer’s or maker’s control, they may be liable for its injuries. They cannot, however, be responsible for not adequately warning the user about a product’s obvious hazards. 

There are other ways plaintiffs can hold defendants liable for their defective products. For instance, if they sold items after a government agency ordered their removal, that may be grounds for a lawsuit. Similarly, those who sell unreasonably dangerous products following the withdrawal of a government agency can also face claims.

Owners’ Liability for Dog Attacks in Tennessee

A significant portion of Tennessee households own dogs. In fact, the state ties with nearby Kentucky as home to one of the highest rates of dog-owning households, at 47%. Tennessee is also home to Memphis, ranked 17th by the U.S. Postal Service in dog attacks against postal workers. 

Such cases raise the question of who is liable in dog attack incidents. Generally, pet owners must ensure their animals do not run at large. These dogs should also always be kept under reasonable control. Those who fail to do so may face lawsuits if injuries occur. 

It is worth noting that dog owners are not liable for injuries in certain situations. State law specifies, for example, that those who operate military or police dogs are not responsible for the damage they cause as part of their official duties. Other instances where dog owners are not accountable are cases involving individuals hurt by provoking the animal or trespassing on private property. 

Note that certain municipalities in Tennessee ban dog breeds altogether if their owners do not meet city requirements. In Selmer, pit bull owners must register their animals with the city’s police department. Meanwhile, the City of Dyer does not allow the same breed unless its owners comply with various requirements. These include purchasing liability insurance worth $100,000, displaying a “Beware of Dog” sign on their property, and fitting a muzzle on the pit bull whenever it is outside its pen or kennel.

Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Laws

Across the state, more than 230,000 Tennesseeans work in transportation-related companies. Employees in the industry, though, face a higher rate of fatal workplace accidents. In its 2021 report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that around 16% of the 132 workplace-related fatalities in Tennessee are in the transportation and warehousing sectors. 

In such cases, surviving family members of the deceased worker may file a claim for death benefits from the employer’s insurance company. If the deceased leaves behind a spouse and one or more dependent children, they should receive 66 2⁄3% of the average weekly wages from the insurer. The death benefit decreases to 50% if the deceased leaves no dependent children but a surviving spouse. When there are neither surviving spouses nor dependent children, the insurance company pays $20,000 to the deceased’s estate. 

Tennessee's workers’ compensation laws apply not only to wrongful death cases. In 2021, the state recorded a non-fatal workplace injury rate of 2.5 cases per 100 workers. 

Hurt employees need to be aware of the process of claiming benefits. It begins with an accident report submitted to the employer within 15 days of its occurrence. Once they receive the notice, the employer sends a First Report of Injury Form, or Form C-20, to their insurance company. The insurer then submits a copy of Form C-20 to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, which operates under the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. 

Note that employers and insurance companies that do not promptly address claims will face penalties. These are fines that range from $50 to $5,000. 

Within 15 days of receiving Form C-20, the insurance company must decide whether to accept or deny the claim. In denial cases, the injured worker may file a Petition for Benefit Determination before the state’s workers’ compensation bureau. This petition leads to mediation between the worker and their employer.

If no agreement is reached, the mediator in charge of the proceedings releases a dispute certification notice. Both parties can then appear before the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims. If the worker is unsatisfied with the court’s decision, the final step is an appeal before the Tennessee Supreme Court. It can either hear the case or refer it to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel.

Dram Shop and Social Host Laws in Tennessee

Alcohol-related vehicle accidents are common in Tennessee. The state recorded 6,094 accidents in 2021. This number represents a 2.94% increase from 5,920 incidents in 2020. 

Generally, the state imposes the liability for an alcohol-involved accident squarely on the intoxicated driver. There are exceptions, however. Besides the motorist in question, victims may pursue claims against servers who sold alcohol to the liable party.

Plaintiffs should provide evidence that needs to be determined by a 12-person jury as proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the server caused the accident. If they sold alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or one under 21, and their actions resulted in a crash, then the server can be held liable. 

Additionally, plaintiffs can bring claims against defendants who allow underage adults — those at least 18 but less than 21 years of age — to consume alcohol within their property. Incidentally, state law permits defendants to claim that they were providing alcohol to those they reasonably believe were of legal age to avoid penalties. 

Tennessee Medical Malpractice Laws

Tennessee ranks fourth nationwide among states with the highest number of recorded deaths from influenza and pneumonia. Based on CDC data, 14.9 individuals per 100,000 people in the Volunteer State succumbed to those diseases in 2021. 

Sometimes healthcare providers make incorrect decisions or fail to take action. These may lead to people dying from influenza or pneumonia. One area where physicians fall short in their duty of care to the patient is failing to diagnose them in time. In addition, other actions, like making an incorrect diagnosis, may be seen as medical malpractice and, therefore, subject to a lawsuit.

The requirements for a malpractice claim in Tennessee are two documents. These are a written notice of claim for the healthcare provider and a certificate of good faith from the court. 

The former refers to a document that contains — along with the patient’s details — a HIPAA-compliant authorization that allows liable healthcare providers to acquire case-relevant medical records from each other. Plaintiffs must give this written notice to defendants at least 60 days before filing a lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, the certificate states that the plaintiff consulted with one or more experts for the malpractice case. These experts confirm in the certificate that they are competent to express opinions regarding the issue. They also believe, based on evidence, that there is a good faith basis for the medical malpractice claim. 

Courts will dismiss claims against named healthcare providers without the certificate. A plaintiff may receive an extension with the filing of the certificate in situations where the provider in question did not release records related to the patient’s case. 

Tennessee Business Liability Insurance Requirements

Tennessee businesses must purchase workers’ compensation insurance under state law. It is applicable for firms that operate with at least five employees. However, coal mining firms and construction businesses must possess workers’ compensation insurance regardless of the number of their workers. The minimum coverage typically found in these policies is $100,000 per bodily injury incident. The same limit applies in cases involving an incident of bodily disease. 

Companies that own vehicles must also comply with the state’s minimum auto insurance requirements. These are: 

  • $25,000 for the death or injury of one person. 

  • $50,000 aggregate per accident. 

  • $25,000 for property damage. 

Firms not aiming to purchase insurance have two ways to demonstrate their proof of financial responsibility to the state. One is through a cash deposit worth $65,000 filed with the Tennessee Department of Revenue. The other is through a bond valued at the same amount filed with the same agency. 

Businesses that use trucks face higher insurance requirements, especially if these vehicles travel between states. These minimum coverage limits are: 

  • $300,000 for trucks with a weight under 10,001 pounds. 

  • $750,000 for vehicles transporting non-hazardous materials weighing 10,001 pounds or more. 

  • $1 million for trucks that carry oil. 

  • $5 million for vehicles that move hazardous materials like uranium.

Is Tennessee a No-fault State?

Tennessee follows the at-fault system. Plaintiffs in the state may press claims against defendants. Accident victims can recover compensation for their lost wages and medical expenses. 

Occasionally, plaintiffs may turn to their insurance provider to cover accident-related expenses. Let's say a policyholder has insurance that contains comprehensive coverage. In that case, they can use it to manage costs involving fire, animal, or flood-related damage.

Another add-on that individuals should know about is uninsured motorist coverage. Under state law, insurance policies issued to Tennesseans must cover accident damage from uninsured motorists. The policyholder can reject the add-on in writing, though. 

This particular type of coverage comes in handy in Tennessee, where 23.7% of motorists are uninsured

Is Tennessee a Modified Comparative Fault State?

Like most states, Tennessee adheres to the modified comparative fault system. Plaintiffs have the opportunity to obtain damages from defendants. These damages can be recovered if the plaintiff’s share of responsibility for the accident does not exceed that of the defendant. 

It is important to note that Tennessee courts apply the 50% bar rule in cases. Accident victims may obtain damages for their injuries if their fault is 49% or less than that of the liable parties. However, that percentage decreases the damages a plaintiff can receive from defendants. 

To illustrate this, suppose you were in an accident that resulted in $10,000 in damages, and the courts ruled that you were 30% at fault. Given this, the final award you will receive is $7,000, where the $3,000 deduction accounts for your share of the responsibility for the accident. 

How Much Can Someone Sue for an Injury in Tennessee?

Tennessee does not impose a cap on economic damages for plaintiffs. In other words, those seeking compensation for their lost earnings, medical expenses, or burial costs would find no limit in the state courts. 

Noneconomic damages are a different matter. The state caps damages for a plaintiff’s emotional distress and loss of companionship at $750,000. This limit goes up to $1 million in cases of catastrophic injury. 

There are no caps on noneconomic damages involving defendants who intentionally inflict serious injuries on the plaintiff. Likewise, the award in cases where the liable party destroyed, concealed, or falsified records that prove their fault is not limited. Other situations where no caps exist include drug or alcohol-related accidents that cause injuries or deaths. 

Punitive damages, awarded to plaintiffs as a way for courts to punish defendants, are limited. State law caps these at no more than twice the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are only awarded if plaintiffs deliver convincing and clear evidence that defendants engaged in malicious, fraudulent, reckless, or intentional acts. 

The Statute of Limitations in Tennessee

Plaintiffs in Tennessee have one year to file personal injury claims against defendants. The one-year window starts from the date of the accident. It also applies in wrongful death cases, the difference being that the deadline begins on the day of the victim’s death. 

Additionally, filing product liability claims against liable sellers or manufacturers should be done within one year. Plaintiffs should note that they must press claims against defendants on the date of the injury, not on the day the product was sold. 

On the other hand, plaintiffs seeking compensation for property damage from defendants may file a claim within three years of the accident. 

Legal Resources for Injured Folks in Tennessee

Tennessee Department of Treasury

The department aims to invest in the well-being of Tennesseans. Its initiatives include the Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund, which reimburses installers of interlock ignition devices and helps low-income Tennesseans comply with their legal requirements. Another program allows motorists to file claims against the state for negligent highway maintenance and receive compensation for their injuries. 

Those seeking damages from the department should support their claim through various information. These include documents showing who owns the damaged vehicle and its repair costs. Individuals can file a claim online. They may also call the department at (888) 226-7835 to inquire about an existing claim. 

Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security

As part of its mission, the department seeks to protect the people of Tennessee. It operates the Driver Services Division, which oversees the issuance of licenses for owners of non-commercial and commercial vehicles. It also issues government photo IDs to help Tennesseans comply with the state’s voting laws. 

Additionally, the department handles crash reports. Individuals can access these documents in three ways: online, by mail, or in person. Requests for the crash report in person must be made at the applicable district office, found on the department’s website. Eighth district offices cover the state’s 95 counties. Note that the department requires various types of information to process reports. These include the crash date, agency tracking number, county where the crash happened, and name or names of the drivers involved.

Tennessee Bar Association

The association has been working to promote the interests of the state’s legal community, including attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants, as well as judges and corporate lawyers, since 1881. It provides continuing legal education for practitioners in Tennessee. It also publishes the Tennessee Bar Journal, which covers issues like attorney’s fees and ethical considerations. 

The association additionally runs a website for Tennesseans seeking relevant lawyers for their cases. Individuals from Southeast, Middle, and East Tennessee can call the Lawyer Referral Service in their area to contact a pre-screened attorney. An appointment typically runs for half an hour.

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