Tennessee Car Accident Laws

If you’re in a collision on one of Nashville’s notorious on-ramps, you need to know the car accident laws in Tennessee.
Written by Mary Alice Morris
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
If you have the misfortune of being in a car accident in
, you need to report the collision if there’s any damage upwards of $50. That means even the slightest fender-bender will need to be phoned in if any damage can be claimed. Depending on the severity of the accident, you may also need to submit a written report.
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What to do after a crash: Tennessee car accident reporting laws

If you’re in a collision
, the first and most important thing to do is to check yourself and your passengers for any injuries. Get your car
moved to a safe location
out of the flow of traffic if possible. If the car can’t be moved, get yourself away from traffic to prevent additional injuries. 
When you’re in a safe location, try your best to do the following:
  • Check for injuries again
  • Call 911 if anyone was hurt
  • Document the accident as best as you can with photos and videos of the scene 
You’ll also want to check with the other party involved. You need to exchange your insurance and registration information with them, but you also need to make sure they’re okay. It’s not just the right thing to do—in Tennessee, it’s the law. 
State vehicle code 55-10-103 says drivers involved in an accident must give reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident, if at all possible. That could mean assisting someone in obtaining medical attention by getting them to a physician or calling 911 on their behalf. 
Once you’ve ensured everyone is okay or receiving the medical attention they need, and you’ve exchanged car insurance information with any other parties involved, you probably need to make a report of the accident to local law enforcement

When to report an accident to the police

According to Tennessee state law, any accident with $50 or more in damages must be reported to law enforcement. If you haven’t already contacted 911 regarding the accident due to an injury, you can dial 911 to report it. The dispatcher will relay information to whichever law enforcement agency holds jurisdiction over the site of your collision, and they will come to the scene to collect a report from you.
Any accident that involves a death, a bodily injury, or more than $1,500 will also require an additional statement reporting the accident in detail, which is due within 20 days of the collision to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
That said, Tennessee law states that reportable accidents should be referred to law enforcement immediately, by the quickest means possible. The state vehicle code indicates:
  • If the accident happened within the city limits of a municipality, you should report it to the local police department.
  • If it happened outside of city limits, make your report to the nearest county sheriff’s office or the nearest highway patrol office.
Of course, once law enforcement appears on the scene, you don’t need to call to make an additional report. They will make a report of the accident for you. 

When to report an accident to the DSHS

In addition to your initial report to law enforcement and your insurance company, you also might have to submit a detailed personal report of the accident to Tennessee’s Department of Safety (DSHS) and Homeland Security
This report must be submitted to the DSHS if the collision caused:
  • Bodily injury
  • Death
  • Property damage of $1,500 or more to any one person
To make this report, you simply need to fill out the
SF-0395 form
and submit it to the state’s DSHS. 
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Financial responsibility and coverage minimums: Tennessee’s insurance laws

Like most other states, Tennessee requires drivers to purchase a
minimum amount of liability car insurance
. This requirement was beefed up in 2015 with the state establishing an online insurance verification database. 
This database allows law enforcement and the state’s commerce department to check and verify your insurance status. Failure to carry the minimum insurance will result in a series of escalating fines and perhaps the revocation of your car’s registration
In Tennessee, the minimum car insurance required is a 25/50/15 plan, which includes:
If you don’t meet this requirement, you face potential fees, losing your registration, and even losing your driver’s license. Even worse, if you’re involved in an accident you might face a catastrophic lawsuit—and it may impact your ability to claim damages of your own. 
Despite all the potential pitfalls, Tennessee has an extremely high rate of uninsured drivers. In 2019, 23.7% of the state’s drivers had no insurance. This puts everyone on the road at risk, and it’s why you should consider purchasing
uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
in addition to your liability coverage. 

Claiming damages after an accident: Tennessee’s personal injury laws

Although you may believe that any damages you suffer in an accident can be compensated through the insurance filing process, it’s good to know Tennessee’s statute of limitations when it comes to filing a personal injury lawsuit.
If something goes wrong through the insurance settlement or you’re not satisfied with the compensation you’re offered, you can file a lawsuit claiming economic or non-economic damages. 
These are the differences between economic damages and non-economic damages:
  • Economic damages include compensation for lost wages, loss of property, medical bills, employment termination, lost business opportunities, or funeral expenses caused by the collision.
  • Non-economic damages may include compensation for mental trauma, scarring or bodily disfigurement, emotional distress, loss of benefits in a relationship between family members, and loss of enjoyment of life due to the collision.
Tennessee’s civil code does not limit the compensation for economic damages, but the state has set a cap on the amount of compensation for non-economic damages, with some exceptions allowing a higher amount of compensation. 
Typically, non-economic damages are limited to $750,000 per plaintiff. However, this limit increases to $1,000,000 if the accident causes catastrophic injuries. These damages will be apportioned to all the defendants according to their determined percentage of responsibility for the accident. 
For both types of damages, drivers in Tennessee face a statute of limitations, which means you only have a limited amount of time after a collision to file a lawsuit. These deadlines mean a lawsuit must be filed within:
  • One year of the accident for bodily injury claims
  • One year of a crash victim’s death for wrongful death lawsuits
  • Three years from the date of the accident for property claims
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Exceptions to Tennessee’s personal injury laws

While Tennessee is home to some of the shortest-term statutes of limitations for filing a suit, there are a few exceptions in special cases. 
Your deadline to file a lawsuit might be extended if: 
  • The discovery rule applies, which allows you to file later if you discover an injury or illness caused by the collision after the accident happened
  • You’re a minor, in which case you can file suit up to one year after your 18th birthday
  • The defendant was incarcerated for a crime or fled the state after the accident

Who’s to blame: Tennessee’s modified comparative negligence law

You might be surprised to learn you can file a claim for damages in a lawsuit related to a car accident in Tennessee—even if you’re partly to blame. However, this only applies if you are determined to be only 49% or less at fault. If someone is found to be 50% at fault or higher, they may not recover any damages. 
That means if three people are involved in a collision caused by distracted driving on all parties, they can all recuperate damages—as long as one of the drivers isn’t found to be 50% at fault.
Under this
modified comparative negligence law
, the amount of money you receive will be reduced based on your share of fault in the accident. That means if the court finds your economic and non-economic damages total $1,000,000, but you are 20 percent at fault for the accident, your reward will be reduced by 20%, and you’ll only recuperate $800,000. 

How to save money on car insurance in Tennessee

If you end up in a car accident, your
Tennessee car insurance rates
could jump significantly, even if you’re not at fault. However, it’s possible keep your rate from skyrocketing with
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