Under Tennessee law, a plaintiff must show the following to bring a successful claim for negligence: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct falling below the applicable standard of care amounting to a breach of duty; (3) injury or loss; (4) the defendant’s breach of duty was the cause in fact of injury or loss to the plaintiff; and (5) the defendant’s breach of duty was also the proximate or legal cause of injury or loss to the plaintiff.
Modified Comparative Negligence
At one time, the law in Tennessee followed a pure comparative negligence standard in negligence actions which allowed a plaintiff to recover a monetary award issued by the court for injuries caused by the negligence of a defendant even if the plaintiff was 99% at fault for their own injury. However, that method changed in McIntyre v. Balentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (1992), where Tennessee adopted a modified comparative negligence approach in negligence actions. The court adopted modified comparative fault in an effort not to fully abandon the already implemented fault-based system.
Tennessee’s new system of comparative negligence allows for a plaintiff to recover as long as their apportionment of fault was not greater than 49%. If the court finds that the plaintiff was 50% or more responsible for their own injury, a complete bar is set and the plaintiff will not be able to recover.
If a court determines that a plaintiff’s percentage of fault was 49% or less, the plaintiff’s monetary award will be reduced in proportion to their percentage of fault. For example, if an award of $100,000 is granted by the court on behalf of the plaintiff but the court found that the plaintiff was 10% at fault for their own injury, the plaintiff will only be able to recover $90,000 of the $100,000 award due to their percentage of fault.
Joint & Several Liability
McIntyre also held that the doctrine of joint and several liability within the state of Tennessee was obsolete and would only remain applicable in strict liability actions; where tortfeasors acted in concert with one another and where the injury caused was intentional. However, under the several liability standard, generally, in a negligence action, joint tortfeasors will only be held responsible for the percentage of fault allocated by the court.
Unless the act was intentional, where one defendant has paid more than their proportional share of liability that defendant has the right to seek contribution against any other joint defendant who has not paid its proportional share.
Compensatory damages are awarded by a court to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the defendant(s). The award is meant to restore the plaintiff – as much as possible – to the condition they were in prior to the injury occurring.
Compensatory damages include reasonable expenses necessary for medical care; hospitalization and treatment; economic loss from loss of income (both past and future); pain and suffering; disability; disfigurement; and mental anguish.
There is a cap of $750,000 on non-economic damages in Tennessee. However, a Circuit Court Judge held recently that the cap was unconstitutional, a ruling which may be heard by Tennessee’s Supreme Court in the coming years.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff. The law in Tennessee allows punitive damages to be awarded if a plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant acted intentionally, fraudulently, maliciously, or recklessly. The term “clear and convincing” means that no substantial doubt exists as to the conclusions drawn from the evidence.
The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.
By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Should you have a question/concern specific to Tennessee law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee.