Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Tennessee Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury FAQs

Learn the basics about personal injury lawsuits in the Volunteer State

Whether you decide to hire an attorney or represent yourself, Enjuris wants to help guide you on your road to recovery. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions.

The legal system can be confusing, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.

With that in mind, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about personal injury lawsuits in Tennessee. 

What is a personal injury lawsuit?

A “personal injury lawsuit” is a lawsuit that is filed when one person suffers physical or mental harm as a result of someone else’s actions or inactions.

Personal injury lawsuits do NOT include lawsuits based on damage to a person’s property.

Common sources of personal injury lawsuits include:

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the different types of personal injury lawsuits in our Tennessee Personal Injury Guide.

How do I start a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee?

A lawsuit officially begins when the plaintiff (the injured party) files and serves the defendant with the following legal documents:

  • A complaint. A complaint is a concise statement of the factual and legal basis for a lawsuit.
  • A summons. A summons is an official notice of a lawsuit.

Most personal injury lawsuits in Tennessee are filed in a state-level trial court (either a circuit court or chancery court) located in the county where the accident occurred or where the defendant lives.

Once the complaint and summons are filed and served, the defendant must file and serve the plaintiff with a response within a certain amount of time (usually 30 days). The court will then create a case schedule setting for the scheduled events and deadlines for the case.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the Tennessee court system, and find out more about the steps you need to take to file a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee.

How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee?

Tennessee law requires cases to be filed within a certain time period. This time period is called the “statute of limitations.” In most personal injury cases, the lawsuit must be filed and served within 1 year of the date of the accident.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the statute of limitations in Tennessee.

Is negligence the only basis for a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee?

The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are based on negligence. A defendant is negligent—and therefore liable for a plaintiff’s injuries—if they failed to exercise the standard of care that the law required and the plaintiff was injured as a result.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about negligence, including the elements you need to prove to establish negligence in Tennessee.

However, a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee may also be based on:

  • An intentional wrong. If someone intentionally harms you, that intentional act may be the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. For example, if someone intentionally pushes you down the stairs, you may be able to win a suit for battery. 
  • Strict liability. In certain situations, a defendant can be held liable for an injury without the plaintiff having to prove that the defendant acted negligently or intentionally. In these rare situations, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant committed the act. The most common example of strict liability is when a plaintiff is injured by an unreasonably dangerous product.

What is discovery?

Discovery is the legal process by which parties to a lawsuit exchange information about the incident that gave rise to the lawsuit.

The purpose of discovery is to level the playing field and prevent a situation where one side doesn’t learn about the other side’s evidence until the trial, at which point there’s no time to obtain responding evidence.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the discovery process, including the methods of discovery and what information is not discoverable.

What does it mean to settle a case?

Settling a case means that the plaintiff agrees to accept something (usually money) in exchange for dropping their lawsuit against the defendant. A settlement can take place at any point in a lawsuit before the case is decided.

There are 2 important things you should understand about settlements:

  1. When you settle a case, you’ll sign a release absolving the defendant of any liability. This means that you can’t file another lawsuit against the defendant, even if you later find out that your injury is more serious than you originally thought.
  2. Your attorney can give you advice about whether to accept a settlement offer, but the decision is ultimately yours. 

Do I need to file a lawsuit?

Whether or not you need to file a lawsuit depends on the specific facts of your case. You may be able to recover damages without filing a lawsuit by filing an insurance claim or settling the case.

Fortunately, most initial consultations with attorneys are free. During an initial consultation, an attorney can provide you with some idea of the strength of your case, the potential recovery, and whether or not there are non-legal options that might be viable.

Enjuris tip: Learn what to expect and how to prepare for an initial consultation with an attorney.

If I file a claim with an insurance company, do I need an attorney?

If the insurance company accepts your claim in full, you probably don’t need an attorney. However, you might consider hiring an attorney if the insurance company:

  • Denies your claim, or
  • Offers you less than you think you deserve.

Keep in mind that once you accept an offer from an insurance company, you can’t make another claim or sue the defendant if you later discover that your injuries are more severe than you originally thought. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to meet with an attorney before making an insurance claim or accepting an offer in order to make sure you’re not missing out on any damages.

What type of damages can I recover in a Tennessee personal injury case?

Tennesseans can recover economic damages, non-economic damages, and (in some cases) punitive damages.

Economic damages are damages that compensate the plaintiff for the monetary losses caused by an accident, including:

  • Medical expenses (hospital visits, surgeries, medications)
  • Lost income
  • Property damage

Non-economic damages are damages that compensate the plaintiff for the non-monetary losses caused by an accident, including:

Punitive damages are damages that are intended to punish a defendant. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the defendant acted:

  • Maliciously
  • Intentionally
  • Fraudulently
  • Recklessly
Enjuris tip: Find out how lawyers and insurance companies estimate the value of a claim.

Are there any damage caps in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, non-economic damages are capped at $750,000 per person (except for some severe injuries, which are capped at $1 million). Tennessee also places a cap on punitive damages in the amount of $500,000, or twice the amount of the compensatory damages (economic plus non-economic damages) awarded, whichever is greater.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about damage caps in Tennessee.

What if I’m partially responsible for the accident?

Tennessee follows the “modified comparative fault rule,” which reduces the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover by their degree of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is determined to be 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovery ANY damages.

Let’s look at an example:

Ryan, a 10-year-old boy, is running through a grocery store in Nashville when he slips on a broken jar of pasta. Ryan sustains a serious injury to his face and his parents sue the grocery store for $100,000.

The judge finds that the grocery store was 80% at fault for failing to clean up the broken pasta jar and that Ryan was 20% at fault for running through the grocery store.

Under Tennessee’s modified comparative fault rule, Ryan would only be entitled to $80,000 (80% of his damages). 

How much does it cost to hire a personal injury attorney?

Under the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney is prohibited from charging an “unreasonable fee.” What’s considered unreasonable depends on a host of factors, including the complexity of the case and the amount of money in dispute.

Tennessee personal injury cases are typically done on a contingent-fee basis. A contingent fee means the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage (usually between 20-40%) of your recovery. If you don’t recover any money, your lawyer doesn’t receive any fees.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about how to negotiate lawyer fees.

How do I choose a personal injury attorney?

Choosing a personal injury attorney is one of the most important decisions you’ll make after an accident. Litigation can take years and it often requires you to disclose and discuss sensitive information (such as your medical and financial history). Accordingly, it’s important to hire an attorney you’re comfortable with, as well as one who’s capable of recovering the damages you deserve.

Fortunately, most attorneys offer free initial consultations, which provide an excellent opportunity to get to know the attorney.

Need help choosing the right attorney?

Check out these articles and resources:


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