Comparative Negligence in Tennessee

Under Tennessee’s comparative negligence law, you can recover damages from an accident if you were under 50% at fault.
Written by Macy Fouse
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
is a modified comparative negligence state, meaning that you can recover damages from a
car accident
as long as you weren’t more than 50% at fault.

What is comparative negligence?

Comparative negligence is a legal term that defines the amount of blame each party is assigned in an accident. It also outlines the amount of damages each party is entitled to. 
For example, if you’re in a wreck and caused 30% of the accident, you or your insurance company only have to pay for 30% of the damage. The other driver will be held responsible for the other 70% and therefore pay for 70% of the damages. 
Comparative negligence can apply to personal injury lawsuits as well as third-party insurance claims, in which you
file a claim
with another driver’s liability insurance. In personal injury lawsuits, responsibility will be assigned by a judge or jury. With insurance claims, the insurance company relies on comparative negligence to determine the amount of damages they’ll pay after an accident. 

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

In general, there are three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, modified or partial comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Each state’s comparative negligence law will fit into one of these classifications. 
  • Pure comparative negligence: Each party is awarded damages based on their level of blame. 
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence: The injured party can only collect damages if their level of fault is less than 50 or 51% (depending on the state). 
  • Contributory negligence: The injured party cannot collect damages if they shared any blame whatsoever.
Most states follow the modified comparative negligence principle. 12 states recognize pure comparative negligence, and only 5 states abide by contributory negligence. 

What is Tennessee’s comparative negligence law? 

Tennessee is in the majority as a modified comparative negligence state. With Tennessee’s law, you can collect damages if you’re at fault for less than 50% of the accident. The amount you’ll be awarded will be reduced based on your own degree of fault, too. 
If you’re 30% at fault for an accident, you can collect damages for the 70% caused by the other driver. If you and the other driver were both 50% responsible, though, neither of you would be able to recover damages. 

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

If there were more than two parties at fault in an accident, the fault will be distributed among every party. You can claim with either or both of the other drivers’ insurance companies, and you can recover compensation based on the degree of fault from each driver. 

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

Insurance companies will assign fault based on the evidence submitted along with the claim, along with any information from the police report. 
Be sure to document as much evidence as possible from the scene of the accident, including:
  • The details of the cars involved, including make and model
  • The time of day 
  • Weather conditions at the time of the accident
  • Details gathered from any witnesses 
  • Photographs of the damage 
Be sure to call the police if necessary. An accurate police report, along with these other details, will help the insurance company assign blame as correctly as possible. 

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

Because Tennessee is a modified comparative negligence state, you can file a third-party insurance claim if you were at fault for less than 50% of the accident. 
For instance, if you were hit by a car running a red light, but it was dusk and you hadn’t turned your headlights on yet, you would be held partially responsible. Let’s say the insurance company investigates and finds that the other driver ended up
running the red light
because they were texting and driving. Since the other driver was distracted, they get stuck with 80% of the blame while you get off with 20% since your headlights weren’t on. 
Even if you shared some of the blame, you can still file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company to collect damages.
With Tennessee’s comparative negligence law, you can collect 80% of the damages from the other driver’s insurance. If your car’s repairs cost $5,000, the other driver’s insurance will cover only $4,000, so you’ll have to pay for the rest. The other driver won’t be able to file a claim with your insurance company since they were more than 50% at fault. 

How to find affordable car insurance

Modified comparative negligence laws are only helpful if they work out in your favor, but you can never be sure how the chips will fall. That’s why it’s always safest to find more protective coverage. When you use the
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Yes. Each insurance company calculates your increased rates based on factors like your driving history, demographics, and level of fault. However, you can expect to see an increase of at least 20% if you’re to blame for an accident.
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