Tennessee Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

About a thousand people die in Tennessee road accidents every year, a quarter of which are DUI-related. Injured victims and close relatives of deceased victims can seek compensation in Tennessee courts. Some of the most prominent features of Tennessee’s road accident laws are listed below.

Statute of Limitations: In Tennessee you have only one year from the date of a road accident to file a lawsuit over personal injury. You have three years to file a lawsuit over property damage, and one year from the date of death of a deceased victim to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: When the evidence indicates that the victim is partly at fault, the court will assign an exact percentage of fault to both parties. If the victim’s percentage of fault is below 50 percent, his exact percentage of fault will be deducted from his total damages and he will be awarded whatever amount remains after the deduction. If his percentage of fault is 50 percent or more, his claim will be dismissed and he will receive nothing.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Tennessee is not a “no-fault” auto liability insurance state – if you believe the other driver was at fault, you can file a claim against his insurance policy or sue him directly, without first having to look to your own insurance coverage.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: The minimum auto liability insurance coverage in Tennessee is $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per injury accident, and $15,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Tennessee does not require its drivers to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Types of Damages Available: Economic compensatory damages are available without limit. Non-economic compensatory damages (for emotional distress, for example) are capped at $750,000, except in cases of extremely serious injury such as spinal cord injury, in which case the cap rises to $1 million. Punitive damages are generally limited to the greater of double the total amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. In cases of intent to harm or intoxication (a DUI, for example), punitive damages are unlimited.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, although alteration of the vehicle can be used as a defense under certain circumstances (if the defect alleged is a consequence of the alteration, for example).

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Under certain circumstances, the State of Tennessee or one of its political subdivisions can be sued for an injury caused by a defective roadway.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders on Tennessee roads must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants aged 16 and older must buckle up while sitting in a front seat. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25.

Dram Shop Law: A licensed alcohol vendor can face liability to an injured third party for serving alcohol to an underage patron who then proceeds to injure the third party due to his intoxication. Vendors also face limited third-party liability for serving clearly intoxicated adults. Social hosts face no such liability.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): A jail sentence of 48 hours to 11 months applies to a first-time DUI offender. The applicable fine ranges from $350 to $1,500, and the state can suspend the offender’s driver’s license for one year.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: The penalty for a DUI suspect refusing to submit to a breath, blood or urine test for sobriety is a one-year driver’s license suspension (first offense).

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is forbidden, and all cell phone use is forbidden for on-duty school bus drivers and drivers on Learner’s or Intermediate driver’s licenses.