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Comparative Fault: Who Is Liable in Multi-Car Accidents?

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How do Tennessee courts determine liability in accidents that involve multiple vehicles? In single car crashes, fault usually lies with the driver or with the car manufacturer (if the accident was caused by defective parts). In two car accidents, typically one of the drivers will be at fault. But some accidents are much bigger than that. Can all of the drivers involved in an accident be blamed for it?

In Tennessee, personal injury cases use a comparative negligence system. This means that the courts will look at each party’s actions and assign a certain percentage of fault for negligence. Once that percentage is assigned, each party receives damages based on the percentage.

Let’s use a simple example. Tom is driving southbound on 65 and is speeding. He rear-ends Tonya, who loses control of her vehicle and swerves into oncoming traffic. Tonya is then struck by Marcel, who is texting while driving and did not see Tonya swerve into the lane. The courts look over the evidence of the crash and find that Tonya did not commit negligence, so she is liable for no damages. Because Tom was driving recklessly and caused the initial collision, the courts assign 60 percent of the blame to him. Marcel’s distracted driving puts 40 percent of the blame on him. For Tonya’s injuries, the courts award $50,000 in personal injury damages. Of that $50,000, Tom would owe 60 percent and Marcel would owe 40 percent to Tonya.

Even if a driver contributed to the accident, the courts allow that driver to recover some damages. However, there is a threshold in Tennessee beyond which a partially at-fault party may not recover damages. If a plaintiff’s percentage of liability is greater than 49 percent in Tennessee, that plaintiff is not entitled to any damages.

Psalm 86:4-5, “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

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