“Modified Comparative Fault” Rule Bars Recovery in Tennessee Car Crash

by Mandy Hicks

Car accidents fall under an area of tort law known as “negligence.” To make out a successful case, a plaintiff must prove four things:  1) the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, 2) the defendant breached that duty, 3) the plaintiff sustained actual damages, and 4) the plaintiff’s damages were caused by the defendant’s breach of duty. It seems simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, many cases are not as simple as they initially seem. Issues such as comparative fault – an allegation by the defendant that the plaintiff is responsible for some part of the accident – can quickly complicate matters. The resolution of such issues often depends upon the law of the state in which the wreck occurred. This Tennessee car crash case is an example.

Kentucky is one of about a dozen states that follow the “pure comparative fault” doctrine, under which a plaintiff’s damages are reduced in proportion to his or her fault, but he or she is still allowed to recover against the defendant for the defendant’s percentage of fault. In Tennessee, however, the rule is one of “modified comparative fault,” with the plaintiff only being allowed to recover if his or her fault is less than 50%. If the plaintiff is found to be 49% at fault, he or she can recover 51% of his or her total damages, but there is no recovery at all if the parties are determined to bear equal fault.

Tennessee Jury Divides Fault Equally

The harsh modified comparative fault rule recently came into play in the case of Muller v. Higgins, in which a plaintiff who was allegedly injured in a car accident suit sought to recover compensatory damages against another driver. The jury found that the parties were each 50% responsible for the accident, which occurred as both drivers attempted to use a turning lane near the intersection of Northpoint Boulevard and Hixson Pike in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Based on the jury’s verdict of 50-50 fault, the trial court entered judgment in the defendant driver’s favor.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals for Tennessee at Knoxville, the court affirmed the circuit’s judgment, holding that the trial court did not err in denying the plaintiff’s challenges for cause to exclude certain prospective jurors and that the evidence presented at trial supported the jury’s allocation of 50 percent of the fault to each party. In so holding, the court noted that the appellate court’s role in reviewing the findings of the jury with regard to matters of fault is extremely limited, such that the court may only disturb the jury’s verdict if there is no material evidence to support it.

Talk to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

If you have been hurt in a car accident, the law firm of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley can help you file suit against the responsible party. We handle truck wrecks, car collisions, and other accident cases throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, and we will be glad to schedule an appointment to discuss your case with you. Call us at (270) 781-6500 or use the contact form on this webpage.

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