Menu Call Contact

How is Fault Determined in a Tennessee Car Accident?

how is fault determined in a car accident

Getting into a car accident is terrifying. Your heart races, your hands shake, and your mind floods with questions. Are you hurt? Is the other driver okay? Was anyone else involved? How did this even happen?

In the aftermath, there’s one question that quickly rises to the top: who’s at fault?

Fault—that one word can change everything about how your claim proceeds. It determines who pays for the damage, whose rates go up, and the amount of compensation you receive. With so much riding on fault, it’s critical to understand how it’s decided after a Tennessee auto collision.

The Police Investigation Sets the Stage

In most cases, the first step in determining fault happens at the scene of the accident. Tennessee police officers will interview the drivers, passengers, and eyewitnesses to understand what happened.

They will:

  • Examine skid marks, the position of the vehicles, and the location of damage
  • Measure and photograph the scene
  • Take detailed notes about how the collision occurred
  • Collect statements and information from those involved

All this information goes into the official police report, which provides the first guidance on potential fault.

It’s a common misconception that the police definitively decide fault at the accident scene. Officers make their best assessment based on early investigation. However, the police report is not an official final ruling on fault or liability.

The report guides insurance companies as they make a more thorough inquiry, but insurers can dispute the police perspective during claims negotiations. Ultimately, it’s up to the insurers or courts to make a final determination based on all available information.

Insurance Companies Do Their Own Digging

After the dust settles on the police investigation, insurance companies get to work. Insurers representing the drivers, passengers, or property owners involved in the accident will conduct their own independent inquiries.

Here’s what that typically involves:

  • Interviewing the drivers and witnesses again, trying to poke holes or verify stories
  • Analyzing medical reports, scene photos, vehicle damage estimates, and other evidence
  • Assigning fault percentages based on each party’s contribution to the collision

Some accidents involve just one negligent driver who’s completely at fault. But many crashes happen because multiple motorists make mistakes. When shared fault exists, insurers must decide what percentage each party bears based on their contribution to the collision.

Insurance companies have an incentive to assign as much fault as possible to the claimant and reduce their payouts. Without experienced legal representation, victims frequently get stuck with unfair fault percentages.

Tennessee Follows Modified Comparative Negligence

How insurers assign fault percentages is governed by Tennessee’s comparative negligence rules. Under modified comparative negligence, a driver who’s 50% or less at fault can still recover compensation.

But if you are more than 50% to blame for the accident, you are barred from seeking damages. Your compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault, so being 10% responsible means a 10% reduction in your claim value.

Comparative negligence allows for nuanced, proportional liability determinations. A driver going 45 in a 35 zone who gets rear-ended by a speeding 18-wheeler is still partially at fault. But the truck driver, who faces the lion’s share of responsibility, must pay the majority of damages.

Shared Fault Means Shared Claims

When multiple parties are negligent in an accident, they share liability for damages. Each at-fault driver’s insurance covers a portion of the claims based on their allocated percentage.

For example, Driver A is 60% responsible, and Driver B is 40% to blame. If damages total $100,000, Driver A’s insurer pays $60,000, and Driver B’s insurer pays $40,000. The percentage split also applies to injury claims and lost wages.

Don’t assume being 1-20% at fault means you just have to eat that reduction in damages. Every percentage of fault you can dispute helps increase your payout. Even 5% makes a difference in larger claims with extensive car repairs, medical treatment, and lost wages.

Insurers rarely give back a percentage of fault once you accept it. Fight for every percent you can by having a tenacious negotiator on your side. Don’t leave money on the table because you didn’t think a small percentage mattered.

Evidence Used to Prove Fault After a Car Accident

Some accidents hinge on physical evidence that clearly shows fault. Here are some examples of impactful physical evidence:

  • If you’re rear-ended at a red light, the damage on the back of your car proves you were stopped
  • Skid marks may demonstrate a driver’s attempt to brake before a collision
  • Photos of the scene, vehicle damage, and injuries provide invaluable visual evidence
  • Witness statements help, too, but physical proof carries more weight in disputes over who caused the crash

Many intersections and commercial vehicles now have cameras installed. If the crash occurred in view of:

  • A dashcam
  • Security camera
  • Traffic camera

The footage may decisively settle the question of fault. However, don’t rely on grainy, far-off traffic camera footage to win your case. The best camera evidence comes from your own dashcam or that of another involved vehicle. HD video from inside a car near the collision provides an unbiased record of how it unfolded.

How a Fault Dispute Ends Up in Court

In severe crashes with extensive damages, the involved insurers can’t agree on each party’s fault percentage. The dispute may center on a 5-10% difference that impacts payouts dramatically. When that happens, the unresolved fault question goes before a judge or jury.

Through witness testimony, expert analysis, and evidence presentation, each side argues their case for the at-fault percentages. The court then makes a binding fault determination that sets each insurer’s financial obligations. Having an experienced personal injury attorney in your corner levels the playing field during litigation.

You Can’t Afford to Accept Fault Prematurely

Insurers know that getting you to accept fault immediately saves them big money down the road. An adjuster may call, offering to wrap things up quickly if you agree to a percentage of fault. But once you accept it, you lose the leverage to fight back.

Fault decisions have long-term financial consequences for treatment, lost income, higher insurance rates, and quality of life. Don’t let an adjuster pressure you into accepting fault right away. Talk to an attorney first about your options.

Demonstrating the other driver’s fault is the cornerstone of any injury claim following an accident. The insurance company will fight to assign contributory negligence and reduce their payout to you.

Thoroughly proving you weren’t at fault requires gathering solid evidence and effectively negotiating with insurers. An attorney knows what evidence to collect, how to present it persuasively, and when to take legal action if the insurer refuses to budge.

You Need an Attorney to Level the Playing Field

Between police reports, tricky adjusters, evidence analysis, and legal disputes, determining fault is complicated. Insurance companies have teams of lawyers helping them minimize payouts. You need experienced legal representation to even hope for a fair outcome.

At Pickford Law, our attorneys have the resources and legal skills to stand toe-to-toe with big insurers. We independently investigate who caused the accident and aggressively negotiate on your behalf. If insurers won’t budge, we won’t hesitate to take them to court to secure the judgment you deserve. With us by your side, you can focus on what matters most—your recovery.

Don’t go up against the insurance giants alone. Call Pickford Law or reach out online to set up a free consultation with our team. Fighting for the justice you deserve is what we do every day. With our attorneys in your corner, you can rest assured your rights will be protected.

Author Bio

Shalondra Grandberry Pickford

Shalondra Grandberry Pickford is a highly skilled attorney and the founder of Pickford Law. Her legal practice is committed to representing clients on various legal matters, including social security disability, veterans’ disability, estate planning, and personal injury. With over ten years of experience in law and a license to practice in Tennessee and Arkansas, Shalondra is committed to providing personalized and effective legal representation to each client.

Shalondra received her Juris Doctorate from The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and is a member of the Tennessee and Arkansas State Bar Associations. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including the exclusive Rising Stars award from Super Lawyers in 2017 and again in 2022.

LinkedIn | State Bar Association | Avvo | Google