When you or a loved one has been injured you may decide to hold the person or entity that hurt you responsible for your injuries by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Most personal injury cases deal with an area of the law called negligence. Negligence is defined as "[t]he failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation." Black's Law Dictionary 1133 (9th ed. 2009). People fail to use the proper standard of care in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of situations and this can lead to legal liability for the careless individual.
Common Personal Injury Actions
Some of the more common personal injury actions that plaintiffs file allege negligence in the following ways:
- Car Accidents: A driver who fails to use reasonable care while operating his motor vehicle can injure another driver. For example, a driver who is texting while driving and rear-ends the car in front of him could be found negligent for not paying attention to the road.
- Slip And Fall: Let's say a store employee spills something, doesn't clean the substance up, and a customer ends up slipping, falling, and suffering injuries. That customer may be able to seek compensation from the store for any injuries he or she suffers from the accident because the store had a duty to safely maintain its property for customers.
- Dangerous Dogs: While many canines are loving companions, some can have sour temperaments. If a pouty pooch bites you without provocation, then you may be able to seek damages for your injuries from the animal's owner, as the owner is responsible for the dog.
- Medical Malpractice: Doctors owe a duty of care to their patients. The failure to exercise the appropriate standard of care can result in injury to the patient and liability for the doctor. For example, let's say you go see your doctor because you are feeling unwell and the doctor misses the symptoms of a serious illness. A short time later you end up in the hospital for several weeks because of this illness. If the doctor had diagnosed you properly at the initial exam, you wouldn't have had to go the hospital and wouldn't have so many medical bills. You may be able to hold that doctor liable for his or her failure to properly diagnose you.
- Rickety Railings: A homeowner who fails to properly maintain his or her front porch railings could face a personal injury lawsuit if a visitor was injured while leaning on the railing and the railing gave way. Landowners generally have a duty to maintain their property in a safe manner for most visitors.
These are just a few examples of incidents where people who could be held liable for damages if a plaintiff chooses to file a personal injury case. In each example, the liable party could be held responsible because they failed to use the appropriate standard of care applicable in a given situation.
Proving Negligence At Court
In order to prove negligence in a court of law in Tennessee a plaintiff must show that:
- "(1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
- (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and
- (3) an injury to the plaintiff which was proximately caused by the defendant's breach of a duty."
If a plaintiff can prove all these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, then the plaintiff may be able to recover damages from the defendant for his or her injuries.
What happens if you are partially responsible for your injuries? What if some action on your part contributed to your injuries, can you hold anyone else liable? The answer to these questions involves the doctrine of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is a legal defense. Under this doctrine, if a plaintiff is partially responsible for his or her injuries then the fault is apportioned accordingly and the plaintiff's damages are reduced based on the percentage of fault that is attributed to him or her.
To demonstrate comparative negligence, imagine the following scenario. Polly is driving down the road, heading out to lunch. She has been debating since she woke up that morning whether to get a chicken sandwich or tacos. As she drives by the local taco shop, she suddenly makes up her mind and turns into the parking lot to get some delicious tacos for lunch. However, she fails to signal as she makes her turn and slows down rather quickly. Dave is following Polly a little too closely, as he is in a hurry to get back to his office to prepare for a big meeting. When Polly turns right suddenly, Dave rear-ends her because he didn't leave enough room between their cars.
Polly files a lawsuit against Dave alleging negligence. At trial, a jury finds that Dave is liable for Polly's injuries. However, the jury also decided that Polly was partially responsible for her injuries because she did not signal and slowed down suddenly. The jury decided that Dave was 70% responsible for the accident and Polly was 30% responsible. They awarded Polly $10,000 in damages. Since Polly was found to be 30% responsible for the accident, her damages are reduced by 30%, thus she is awarded $7,000.
Most states, including Tennessee, follow some form of comparative negligence. In Tennessee, the Supreme Court instated comparative negligence in 1992 in the case of McIntyre v. Balantine, 833 S.W.2d 52, 57 (Tenn. 1992). The court stated that "so long as a plaintiff's negligence remains less than the defendant's negligence the plaintiff may recover; in such a case, plaintiff's damages are to be reduced in proportion to the percentage of the total negligence attributable to the plaintiff." So in the above example, Polly could recover her damages because she was less at fault for the accident than Dave. Had she been more at fault, then her claim may have been barred.
Contact a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of another, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Luvell L. Glanton. Luvell is an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. He has been dedicated to helping people recover just compensation for their injuries for over two decades. He offers a free consultation to all potential clients. Contact his office at (615) 244-4511, or click here to fill out the online form.