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Negligence or No Negligence, That is The Question: and How the Answer Could Mean Compensation For Your Injuries In Tennessee

Negligence or No Negligence, That is The Question: and How the Answer Could Mean Compensation For Your Injuries In Tennessee

In the legal arena, negligence is a very specific term that describes a scenario where a legal duty was breached, causing damages.  There are many battles fought in courtrooms over what is and is not negligence, because a finding of negligence could mean a lot of money paid to an injured party.

The most common types of negligence are car accidents. When we drive, we have a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of those around us. If you have spent any time on the road, you know that people do not always exercise reasonable care, whether they are distracted from texting, driving while intoxicated, or running a red light because they are in a hurry.  When such unreasonableness occurs, and it results in an accident, there may be negligence.

There are many other times when negligence occurs, such as when someone slips and falls in a grocery store because an employee failed to place a wet floor sign after mopping or when someone is bit by a dog that an owner knew was dangerous.  To have a situation rise to the level of negligence, certain elements must be proven: a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages.

Duty    

When the law recognizes a relationship between two individuals, then there may be a duty to act in a certain manner to ensure the safety of another individual. When a duty arises depends entirely on the circumstances of the situation at hand. Some duties are created by law, such as the duty of a land owner or drivers of vehicles. Other duties exist because of the relationship between two people, such as a doctor-patient relationship or a parent-child relationship. For example, if you see a person drowning, there is likely no duty owed to save that person (even if there is a moral duty, there is no legal duty).

However, if that person is your child, a legal duty to attempt to save that child exists, where it otherwise would not. Another example is if someone falls in front of you at a store, and you did nothing to cause that fall, you are likely not going to be found negligent. However, if you are the owner of that store, there may be a duty owed to that same shopper and you could be found to have acted negligently merely because of your position as a store owner. Whether a duty exists completely depends on the situation at hand and the relationship between two individuals.

Breach of Duty

Once it is determined that a legal duty exists, one must then prove a breach of that duty.  Whether someone breached a duty is usually a question that can only be answered by a jury. An example of a breach of a duty would be if you were visiting a friend’s house and there was some danger on the property, say a broken stair that they knew about but did not tell you about.

If you injure yourself after stepping on the broken stair, your friend could be responsible for your injuries. As a property owner, your friend had a duty to warn you about dangers on their property that they knew about. Your friend breached that duty when he failed to tell you about the broken stair before you used the stairs.

Causation

Even if someone owed you a duty, then breached that duty, if that breach was not the cause of your damages, then there is no negligence. While causation is a very complex element, it can be understood by thinking about it in an example. If driver 1 was texting and driving and struck driver 2’s vehicle, and driver 2 had to undergo back surgery a week later, you would think that driver 1 is responsible for driver 2’s injuries.

However, if you learn that driver 1 hit a parked car, and driver 2 was inside a store getting groceries at the time of the accident, you see that driver 1 was not the cause of driver 2’s injuries. There is no link between the breach of duty (driver 1 texting and driving then hitting driver 2’s vehicle) and driver 2’s need for back surgery. That “link” is causation.

Damages

An essential element of negligence is damages, which must be actual and quantifiable.  This means that even if a person meets all three elements above, if there are no damages then there is no negligence. Most people who reach out to an attorney after an injury have damages, typically medical bills. This element gets tricky when determining how much of those damages a person can legally recover.

In Tennessee, certain damages may be “capped.” Further, Tennessee is a “modified comparative negligence” state, meaning a person cannot recover from another if they are fifty percent or more at fault.  For example, in a car accident, if two cars collide and both drivers are found to be 50% at fault, neither can recover from the other.  However, if one driver is 49% at fault and the other is 51%, the driver with 49% of the fault may be able to recover from the other driver. However, damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault.

It takes all four elements discussed above to have a negligence claim.  A personal injury attorney is the best person to determine whether you may have a negligence claim. If you have suffered injuries and believe it is a result of negligence, contact our firm for a free consultation to see if you are entitled to compensation for your injuries.