Tennessee — known throughout the U.S. as the birthplace of country music — is also home to a global logistics industry. Over 231,000 people are employed in more than 13,800 companies in the Volunteer State’s transportation industry. Additionally, FedEx currently operates its headquarters and “SuperHub” in Memphis.
It is no surprise, therefore, that trucks are heavily used to move goods to and from businesses in the state. One out of 12 local jobs is related to the trucking industry. Moreover, truckers transport over 90% of the total manufactured tonnage in the country.
The substantial size of Tennessee’s trucking sector increases the chances of truck accidents. The state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DOS) recorded around 14,0000 crashes involving large trucks in 2022, representing a 1.4% increase from the previous year. Most of these are due to driver errors, such as truckers departing from their lanes, tailgating, and failing to yield.
Tennesseans must know that compensation can be recovered after a truck accident, especially if fault is mainly attributed to the other party. This article provides educational resources for victims to understand the state’s laws that deal with the trucking industry. It also contains links to organizations that could aid them in the claims process.
Tennessee’s Law on Loose Materials in Open Truck Beds
Any truck with an open bed must load loose materials in a way that ensures they are at least four inches below the bed’s sides. State law defines loose materials as substances that could blow away, spill, or drop off from a truck’s open bed.
Truckers must secure materials through various means to decrease the risk of unsafe accidents. These include a tarpaulin cover or a dedicated enclosure. Some goods, such as asphalt, soil, unfinished lumber, or crushed stone, do not need to be covered when transported. However, if a police officer sees some of these materials flying off a truck’s bed, the driver may get a citation. It should be noted that truck operators transporting farm products are exempted from the state’s loose material laws.
Those found to have violated state law by a law enforcement officer may face charges for a class C misdemeanor. Drivers who are convicted could face a maximum 30-day jail sentence, up to $50 in fines, or both.
Tennessee’s Oversized and Overweight Permit Laws
Truckers operating in the state need to obtain a special permit if their vehicle’s dimensions or loads exceed state-set specifications. For example, trucks that carry a weight of up to 20,000 pounds on a single axle or up to 40,000 pounds on a tandem axle must acquire prior authorization from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
Other conditions require special permits from TDOT. These include:
Vehicles with a height that exceeds 13 feet and 6 inches but not more than 15 feet and 6 inches: In addition to needing a special permit, vehicles with a height above the stated limit are also not allowed on particular routes.
Vehicles with a width that surpasses 8 feet and 6 inches but not over 10 feet: These trucks do not need specific markings or signs in their journeys. Meanwhile, vehicles that are over 10 feet wide might need front and rear markings, as well as escort vehicles during the duration of the journey.
Vehicles with a length that exceeds 75 feet: Truckers should ensure that such vehicles are fitted with highly visible lights. Moreover, escort vehicles are needed for trucks that have a length of over 90 feet.
Special permits are given to truckers transporting seed cotton if their vehicle’s dimensions do not exceed 9 feet in width, 53 feet in length, and 20,000 pounds per axle. Drivers can move their goods without restrictions on holidays only during the cotton harvest season.
Some counties do not allow overweight or over-dimensional trucks to pass by some of their certain roads. According to TDOT, 24 out of the state’s 95 counties maintain a weight restriction on specific roadways.
Drivers caught operating an oversized or overweight truck without the necessary permits face a class C misdemeanor charge. They must either pay up to $50 in fines or spend a maximum of 30 days in prison. They also have to deal with other penalties based on their truck’s excess weight. For instance, a $25 fine and an additional $0.03 per pound surcharge are imposed on truckers for the first 3% over the weight limit. An extra $25 fine and $0.05 per pound surcharge are calculated for the remaining excess weight.
One can report violators to the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division under the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Individuals may call the organization through its number at (615) 743-4990.
Tennessee’s Truck Inspection Law
All vehicles in the state over 10,001 pounds are subject to annual inspections. Certified mechanics check a range of truck parts — from brake and fuel systems to lights and steering devices — throughout the inspection process. They assess the following as part of their work:
Tires must not have leaks, bulges, or cuts that expose their cords.
Brake pads or linings should be firmly hooked up to the shoe. They should also not be drenched in grease, brake fluid, and oil.
Fenders or mudguards must be installed on trailers that weigh over 3,000 pounds.
Parts like reflectors should be placed in areas that help other vehicles see the truck.
Truckers sometimes utilize homemade trailers to haul materials from one location to another. These trailers are often constructed from used or new parts or reconstructed from an existing manufacturer’s specifications. Owners of such products are required to apply to the DOS, which will then coordinate with designated personnel to conduct an inspection.
Drivers that do not stop at an authorized inspection station may face $250 in fines. State officers could cite an offender for “out-of-service” violations if their truck parts are broken, missing, or loose. Fines range from $50 for a first offense to $150 for a third violation.
Tennessee’s Hazardous Material Endorsement Laws
Truck drivers must get permission — called a hazardous material endorsement (HME) — from the TSA to transport dangerous goods, such as ethanol. Tennessee is the top state in the U.S. for exporting spirits, including the well-known brand Jack Daniel's. In line with this, truck drivers are likely to transport chemicals used in distilleries as part of their work.
If a person has been found guilty of specific crimes, they cannot apply for an HME under TSA regulations. These crimes include terrorism, espionage, murder, treason, or sedition.
A truck driver carrying hazardous materials involved in an accident must report this to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The organization, under state law, is required to maintain accident reports.
Tennessee’s Medical Card Laws
Truck drivers transporting goods between states must obtain a medical card from their doctor under federal law. The requirement applies to individuals who operate trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating over 10,001 pounds. Truckers also need to maintain a health card if they are transporting hazardous materials.
However, some vehicle operators are exempted from this law. These include:
Individuals who transport injured persons or human corpses.
Drivers of emergency vehicles, like fire trucks.
Truck drivers who deliver propane fuel to help people with damaged propane gas systems, usually after floods or storms.
Individuals who transport migrant workers.
Farmers who carry agricultural products to and from their farms and only within 150 air miles of their property.
Local, state, or federal government employees.
The exemption to this federal law does not apply to drivers who transport hazardous materials or carry school or adult passengers.
Tennessee’s Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements
Truckers must comply with the minimum insurance requirements depending on the type of goods they carry. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules apply if drivers move items to nearby states. These are:
$5 million for trucks that tow cargo or portable tanks and hopper-type vehicles, as well as vehicles transporting class 7 materials, like thorium and uranium.
$1 million for vehicles that move oil.
$750,000 for trucks that weigh over 10,001 pounds or more and carry non-hazardous materials.
$300,000 for vehicles that weigh under 10,001 pounds.
With regard to state law, all Tennessee motorists must obtain liability insurance as part of their proof of financial responsibility. The least amount of coverage that vehicle operators in the state need to carry are:
$25,000 for the death or injury of one person per accident.
$50,000 for the death or injuries of two or more people per accident.
$25,000 for property damage.
Unlike neighboring Virginia, Tennessee does not obligate drivers to obtain underinsured or uninsured motorist policies. Insurance providers can offer these, but one can ultimately refuse such add-ons in writing.
State law also mentions that drivers should carry paper or electronic proof of their insurance to display evidence of financial responsibility when asked by law enforcement personnel. One of the electronic methods includes the state’s official MyTN mobile app.
Those caught without insurance are charged with a class C misdemeanor, which carries up to $300 in fines. In cases where a motorist is involved in an accident and does not provide proof of insurance, their vehicle might be towed.
Over 23.7% of drivers in Tennessee do not possess insurance. Consequently, the state’s lawmakers passed the James Lee Atwood Jr. Law to improve drivers' legal compliance. It increases the fine involving uninsured motorists from $100 to $300 and sets up an electronic system to confirm if a driver has the necessary insurance coverage required by law.
Truckers in the state pay an average of $9,592 to $13,773 annually for liability insurance.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Truck Accident in Tennessee?
No state laws impose a limit on the economic damages a truck accident victim can receive from at-fault parties. However, Tennessee currently has a cap on noneconomic damages; a plaintiff can obtain up to $750,000 for their pain and suffering.
The limit can increase to $1 million if the victim received catastrophic injuries, and it can be eliminated in some cases; there is no cap if the defendant willingly conceals, falsifies, or destroys the evidence. Moreover, there is no limit in cases where the defendant was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
There is also the matter of punitive damages, which aim to punish defendants for their reckless or negligent behavior. Plaintiffs can receive either two times the compensatory damages or $500,000 as part of their punitive award. Like with noneconomic damages, there are no punitive award limits if the defendant tampers with evidence.
Tennessee’s Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents
State law has a one-year limit for claims involving truck accidents, which means victims should initiate the legal process within a year from the date of their crash. The timeline is similar in wrongful death cases, with the one-year window starting from the date of the victim’s death. It also applies in instances where the state government is the party being sued. Additionally, state law sets a 90-day limit for appeals in injury claims against government agencies.
However, there are exceptions to the one-year statute of limitations — if the plaintiff's vehicle was damaged in an accident but they did not sustain bodily injuries, they have up to three years to file a claim against the at-fault party.
Tennessee Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Tennessee has an at-fault system. Unlike no-fault states, plaintiffs in Tennessee can obtain compensation for accident-related damages from defendants. Truck crash victims may also go after the liable party’s insurance provider to recover damages for medical expenses. Sometimes, courts might not quickly determine who is responsible for a truck crash. In such cases, plaintiffs — if they have comprehensive or collision insurance policies — can obtain compensation for various expenses from their own insurance companies.
Tennessee Is a Modified Comparative Fault State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Tennessee joins its neighbors Arkansas and Georgia in adhering to the 50% bar rule and following the modified comparative fault system. This means truck accident victims in the state can recover compensation from liable parties if their fault does not exceed the defendant's and is not over 50%. Additionally, the damages a plaintiff can obtain will be reduced based on their percentage of responsibility.
To demonstrate the rule in action, let’s say you were injured in a truck accident and your damages are calculated to be $100,000. If a Tennessee court determines you to be 30% at fault for the collision, the amount you can receive will diminish by 30%, or $30,000. Your final recoverable award, therefore, would be $70,000.
What Is the Average Settlement for Tennessee Trucking Accident Lawsuits?
Personal injury settlements average $455,802 in Tennessee. However, the final amount that truck accident victims can recover still depends on their case.
For example, the medical costs of those with traumatic brain injuries may result in more significant damages since these would include present and future treatments. In such cases, a court might elect to provide a higher award that helps a victim deal with their total expenses.
There are also attorney’s fees to be considered — some law firms offer their services through a contingency fee arrangement. In this case, a plaintiff compensates their attorney through an agreed-upon percentage. Typically, lawyer fees do not exceed 33% of the damages a plaintiff receives.
Legal Resources for Tennessee Trucking Accident Victims
For over a century, TDOT has been planning, constructing, and maintaining statewide infrastructure like roads, airports, cycling paths, and railroads. Around 3,400 employees work in the agency across four facilities in Nashville, Knoxville, Jackson, and Chattanooga. It also operates HELP trucks, which patrol certain busy roadways. Individuals in need of either non-urgent or emergency assistance may call the numbers posted on the TDOT website.
This department runs the Insurance Division, which educates Tennesseans about auto, life, and homeowners’ insurance. It also handles fraud cases through its Fraud and Special Investigations Section. Truck accident victims adversely affected by fraudulent agents or companies can lodge a complaint. The online process might require them to supply documents supporting their claims, including reports, policy statements, and checks.
The agency operates multiple bureaus, including Commercial Vehicle Enforcement. It runs various sites throughout the state that inspect commercial vehicles. The bureau also weighs trucks, patrols highways, and checks truck driver logs as part of its duties. Individuals can find educational resources on the agency's website, like trailer inspection requirements and information on temporary fuel-use permits.
Since its founding in 1881, the association has been representing the interests of Tennessee’s legal community. It has a website that enables locals — including truck accident victims — to find the appropriate lawyers for their cases. One can also check the site to view the numbers corresponding to the Lawyer Referral Service operating in East, Middle, and Southeast Tennessee.
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