Negligence is an ubiquitous term in the world of tort law. Negligence is a legal theory under which an injured party seeks to hold another party responsible for their injuries. Negligence claims are premised on the theory that one person is responsible for another person’s injury because the person failed to act in manner that is required under the law. Negligence claims form the bedrock of many personal injury claims, such as car accidents, slip and fall accidents, construction accidents, and medical malpractice claims. For example, in a car accident, a person may have a negligence claim if another driver ran through a red light and caused injuries to the individual.
Under Tennessee law, there are five distinct elements that must be established in any negligence claim. The elements of negligence include (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to plaintiff; (2) conduct by the defendant falling below the standard of care amounting to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) causation in fact; and (5) proximate or legal cause.
First, the person who caused the injury must have owed a legal duty to the plaintiff to act or refrain from acting in a certain manner. Using the car example, other drivers on the road have a legal duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians on the road.
Second, the defendant must have acted in a manner that breached the duty of care. The standard of care is generally defined as how another reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances. As such, the defendant’s actions are compared to how it is normally expected that people act. For example, it is a breach of the duty of care to operate a vehicle at speeds above the speed limit or to drive through a red light.
Third, the plaintiff must have suffered damages for which the plaintiff may receive monetary compensation. Examples of recoverable damages include physical and emotional pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of wages, loss of earning capacity, and property.
Fourth and finally, the plaintiff’s damages must have been caused by the defendant’s actions. Cause in fact means that the injury would not have occurred but for the actions of the defendant. For example, the plaintiff would not have suffered damages but for the defendant driving through the red light. Proximate or legal cause means that the injury suffered was foreseeable and not interrupted by any superseding causes. For example, it is foreseeable that driving through a red light could injure a driver in another car.
Comparative Fault Under Tennessee Law
Even if another party or parties are found negligent, a plaintiff’s damages may still be reduced if the plaintiff is found to be partially at fault. Tennessee law, as well as a handful other states, follows the modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, each party is held responsible for damages in proportion to fault, as long as the fault of the plaintiff does not meet a certain threshold. If a plaintiff is found to be 50 percent or more at fault then the plaintiff will not recover any damages. If the plaintiff is less than 50 percent at fault then the plaintiff will still be entitled to recover damages. The plaintiff’s damages, however, will be reduced in proportion to the percentage the plaintiff is fault. For example, if a plaintiff suffers $100,000 in damages and is found to be 30 percent at fault then the plaintiff will be entitled to recover only $70,0000. Our Nashville Personal Injury Lawyers are always here to help with a FREE consultation.