You're driving up Church Street trying to find parking for a nearby venue when a pedestrian runs across the street right in front of your car. You slam on your brakes and narrowly miss hitting the guy, but you, yourself, aren't so lucky. The driver following you fails to notice that you've stopped and rear-ends your car. Your seatbelt doesn't lock and your head slams into the windshield. What happens next?
What to Do Directly After a Car Accident
Directly after a car accident, you'll most likely be experiencing some level of shock. You, a passenger, or anyone else involved in the accident may be injured. First and foremost, make sure you take care of any injuries and alleviate safety concerns. If the accident resulted in death or injury to any person, Tennessee law requires you to stop your vehicle and render appropriate aid if necessary (Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-103).
If law enforcement isn't already at the scene, you may want to contact them. Under Tennessee law, you must file a Traffic Collision Report form with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if anyone was injured or killed in the accident or if more than $1,000 of property damage resulted. If a police officer files an accident report, you need not file a collision report form yourself. Furthermore, a police report may come in handy down the line if a legal dispute arises.
Aside from the police report, other evidence you should think about gathering at the scene of the accident includes: statements of witnesses, photographs of the scene and of property damage, and medical reports of injuries.
Filing an Insurance Claim
When it comes to car accidents and auto insurance, Tennessee is a "fault" state, meaning that the at-fault driver or his insurance company is responsible for paying for damage resulting from an accident. A driver involved in an accident in Nashville therefore has a few options for recovering for her damages:
- File a third-party claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company;
- File a claim with the driver's own insurance company. The insurer will then turn around and try to recover from the at-fault driver or his insurer; or
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver in civil court.
Many people choose to exhaust insurance options before resorting to a lawsuit because insurance companies generally are more capable of (and may be responsible for) paying for the damage of an accident. However, it's not necessarily easy to obtain a comprehensive settlement from an insurer.
If you file a claim with an insurance company, an insurance adjuster will make a determination of fault. Then, it will generally either offer you a settlement or deny your claim. Think twice before you agree to an insurance settlement. FindLaw has some great tips for approaching insurance settlements after an accident, especially if you're injured.
An insurance company might deny your claim if the insurance adjuster finds that you bear the majority of fault for your car accident. If you think your claim was unfairly denied, you can always go through the insurance company's appeals process set forth in the applicable policy. Also, consider filing a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Insurance and Commerce.
Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit in Nashville
Perhaps the at-fault driver in your accident didn't have insurance, or perhaps the damage to your property or your person cost more money than you could recover from an insurance settlement. You may have to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to try to cover the expenses from your accident. Here are a few things to know about accident lawsuits in Nashville.
Statutes of Limitations: You have a limited window of time to file your lawsuit with a Nashville civil court under Tennessee statutes of limitations. Generally, you have one year from the time of an accident to file a lawsuit based on personal injury and three years to file a lawsuit based on damage to personal property.
Negligence Rules: Most car accident lawsuits are based on the law of negligence, which requires a person to pay for the damage he causes to another person (or another person's property) because of his reckless, wrongful or negligent act. However, sometimes, more than one person is found to be at fault in an accident.
Tennessee follows a system of modified comparative negligence under which each person found to be at fault in an accident is responsible for paying for the resulting damage, proportionate to his fault. A person with property damage or injury who was partially at fault in a Nashville accident therefore can still recover from other parties at fault in an accident. However, if that person's fault for the accident is 50% or greater, he will be barred from recovery altogether.
Types of Damages: Damages refers to the money awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit in order to put him back in the position he was in before the accident occurred, or at least as much as possible. In Tennessee, a plaintiff can claim any economic damages that occurred as a result of the accident. Economic damages usually include property damage, medical expenses from an injury caused by the accident, lost wages, loss of services such as household work or childcare, and more. In most cases, Tennessee law caps non-economic damages, such as money awarded for pain, suffering, or emotional distress, at $750,000 (Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102).
Stages of the Lawsuit: In Nashville, civil lawsuits are filed with the Davidson County Circuit Court. After you file your lawsuit, your case will begin with the exchange of additional court documents, proceed to the discovery phase, and -- most likely -- end with a settlement before trial.
Now that you've learned some of the details about your Nashville car accident, you may want to browse FindLaw's wealth of information about car accident law and more.