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Tennessee Personal Injury Guide

TN personal injury case & accident info

Tennessee is home to more than 50 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Their services range from research and development to organ regeneration to protein therapeutics for tissue to burn therapy to creating over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to producing medicines for major diseases. Companies of this caliber are liable to attract lawsuits – big lawsuits. People get hurt during a sport or injured during an outdoor activity or they get into car accidents.

It's only natural, because we're human, and humans are fragile. We take the wrong medicine or the incorrect dosage, or we don't listen to our doctors, or a skin graft doesn't take, or a hip implant starts to migrate.

Then we want compensation, and then we turn to the source to begin a lawsuit. And that is where we come in. Whatever happens during that next series of steps, if you need assistance for your personal injury case, Enjuris can offer guidance.


Tennessee personal injury law: the basics

Gilreath & Associates
Gilreath & Associates

Representing injured victims in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis
(800) 637-7024 Specialty: Personal injury

Tennessee personal injury law: the basics

Tennessee statutes online

This is where you’ll find the Tennessee Code. The website has details about how long you have to bring a case, monetary limits on personal injury cases (which are also known as damage caps), and other important information.

Tennessee Code

To read:

Tennessee's car accident statute of limitation

In Tennessee, you have one year to bring a personal injury and three years for a property damage claim. That means you have only one year to file your paperwork with the court, not that your case has to be completed in that time frame. That (along with Kentucky and Louisiana) is the shortest statute of limitation for personal injury in the nation, so be aware and remember that when filing.

Tennessee's Statute of Limitations

To read:

Tennessee damage caps

Tennessee damage caps, or the limits that can be placed on the non-economic damages that plaintiffs receive for a personal injury case, are in a state of flux. Let's take a look at why.

Plaintiffs are eligible for compensation related to their injuries, and that can take two different forms: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are things like medical bills, property damage, and other tangible assets; these have no limit as to recovery. However, Tennessee has set a limit on non-economic damages, which include non-tangible assets like pain and suffering, companionship and the like. The current cap in Tennessee is $750,000.

In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act, which was their form of Tort Reform (everyone's favorite dinner table discussion!) That capped non-economic damages at the $750,000 mark. However, the legal case that could change this is Clark v. Cain, No. 12C1147CV (2015). Mr. Clark sued Ms. Cain, an employee of AT&T, and a number of AT&T divisions, for $25 million after being in a severe car crash. He also challenged the constitutionality of the damage cap statute and directly appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court before the jury had even awarded him in excess of the damage caps.

The Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the appeal and remanded the case to the trial court, saying that until the jury finds a jury award in excess of the cap, the case is not ripe for appeal, meaning there is no point to appealing the case. As of yet, no further rulings have been made. However, the Tennessee Medical Association is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would keep the non-economic cap legal, though it would need to pass two separate General Assemblies before the public would get to vote. As of right now, the damage cap remains at $750,000 for non-economic damages.



Tennessee's medical malpractice statute of limitations

This is where it gets more complicated. There is a separate statute of limitations for medical malpractice in the state of Tennessee. It must be followed to the letter, or your lawsuit will be tossed out of court. This sort of injury will be medical malpractice, and Tennessee law requires that medical providers be given 60 days' written notice before a lawsuit is filed. That written notice has to meet very stringent requirements, and only a licensed attorney for that state will know how to do it. Sometimes the written notice requirement can be extended to 120 days, but it must be done within the statute of limitations, which is one year from the date of injury.

There can be exceptions to that statute of limitations, like the Discovery Rule or when the plaintiff is a minor or mentally incapacitated. For instance, if you did not know you had a sponge left in your chest cavity until two years after an operation, that would probably qualify under the Discovery Rule, because the injury was not "discovered" at the time the medical malpractice occurred. The statute begins to run from the date you reasonably discover or should have discovered the malpractice.

In terms of minors or those who are mentally incapacitated, the statute would be extended for one year until after the minor turns 18 or one year from the date the mentally incapacitated person becomes competent. Both of these are subject to the Statute of Repose.

And what is the Statute of Repose? Well, it bars lawsuits filed after three years from the date of injury, regardless of the discovery of the injury, age, or mental status of the patient. Think of it as an absolute bar (unless the medical provider acted fraudulently or tried to conceal his wrongdoing). So, there's always some kind of exception – unless there isn't. This is why you need to speak to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Tennessee.



Drug and medical device lawsuits in Tennessee

Here are a few interesting cases in Tennessee that are specific to the medical realm:

  • Sterling v. Velsicol Chemical Corporation, 855 F.2d 1188 (6th Cir., 1988): The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that granted $10.5 million to the residents of Hardeman County after they were exposed to toxic groundwater, which affected their central nervous systems and caused organ failure as well as various cancers. Velsicol had acquired 242 acres and used it to dump 300,000 55-gallon drums of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides. This went on for almost a decade before the state intervened.
  • Steele v. Ft. Sanders Anesthesia Group, P.C., 897 S.W.2d 270 (Tenn. App., 1994): Ms. Steele needed a surgical laminectomy for decompression in her spine. This procedure, while risky, is routine for experienced surgeons. However, when she awoke, she was paralyzed from the neck down. After the first case went to a mistrial, the second case determined that a low drop in blood pressure during her surgery was the reason for the paralysis, and Ft. Sanders had deviated from the normal standard of care. Ms. Steele was awarded $7.6 million.
  • Smith v. Gore, 728 S.W.2d 738 (Tenn., 1987): The plaintiff in this case had two children, a ninth-grade education and worked as a waitress at a drive-in restaurant, netting about $60 a week and less than $5,000 a year. She gave birth to twins by C-section and asked for preplanned tubal ligation afterward, a permanent sterilization. Shortly thereafter, she resumed working part-time. At the time she was supposed to be back working full-time, she was informed that she was pregnant with her fifth child. She brought suit against the hospital and the makers of the tubal ligation device for the failed sterilization. As this was a case of first impression (meaning the state hadn't seen a case of this type before), they had to determine the damages for birthing a and raising a healthy, though unwanted, child. It became a public policy argument and was shunted over to the legislature, because they did not want to have a child become something for which damages could be awarded.

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Accident worksheets

Your First Meeting with an Attorney
A worksheet to prepare for your first meeting with a personal injury attorney – what to bring, what they'll ask
Download in PDF format

Documents & Evidence Checklist
Checklist of 30 items to help you prepare for making a personal injury or accident claim
Download in PDF format

Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format

Damages/Expenses Worksheet
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format

Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format

Accident Report Form
Sample post-accident report form to keep in your glove box - fill out at the scene or as soon as you can after a car accident
Download in PDF format

Hiring a lawyer in Tennessee

The first meeting with a personal injury attorney is normally free. (Note that some legal specialties are different.) After that, lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means that they will receive a third of the eventual reward, plus whatever office expenses they incur along the way.

If your case proceeds to trial, that percentage could rise to 40% of the eventual reward or judgment. These numbers aren't determined by law, so don't be surprised if your lawyer suggests something else.

Find a lawyer in Tennessee

personal injury guides

Personal injury law basics

What is personal injury? Common questions answered. Accident & personal injury case/claim basics: read about money, insurance, liability, negligence, timing, lawsuit, settlements. Read more

Need a lawyer?

Browse our national directory of top-rated accident and injury attorneys in Tennessee.
Find a Tennessee personal injury lawyer

Law libraries in Tennessee

There are many issues you can solve without the help of a lawyer. If you don't know where to start, a law librarian can help you. They are usually legally trained, and they can help you both with texts or online research engines like LexisNexis or Westlaw.

  • University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Law Joel A. Katz Law Library
  • Vanderbilt Law School Alyne Queener Massey Law Library