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Automobile Accident Attorney

After being injured in an auto accident, you are in pain, medical bills are stacking up by the minute, your vehicle is in need of repair or is a total loss and you are out of work, unable to earn the money you need to afford the bills as well as medical treatment you need. What’s worse, the accident happened because of another driver’s negligence and the insurance company is giving you the runaround. Unfortunately, insurance companies are still businesses whose main interest lies in making money. Their focus isn’t always on what is best for victims of auto accidents. The last thing that the insurance company wants is for you to contact a lawyer. The adjuster knows that experienced auto accident lawyers will immediately get started on your claim by giving you good legal advice. Our lawyers will also help you preserve the value of your case by getting you to a good doctor and quickly taking care of your property damage.

By law, you're entitled to be compensated for medical treatment, lost wages, and pain and suffering, as long as you weren't responsible for causing the accident. You also have the right to be compensated for all past and future medical care, pain and suffering, your lost wages, disfigurement or scarring, and physical impairment. Know your rights and don't let insurance companies stomp on them! Our car accident lawyers have successfully represented clients like you in and out of court throughout Tennessee.

After your accident, you should immediately contact a licensed car wreck attorney who can work on your claim fast, before the insurance company has a chance to confuse and take advantage of you. The Tennessee auto accident lawyers at Davis, Kessler & Davis are sharp, driven, and experienced. When you’ve been injured by someone’s negligence in an auto accident, you need the help of someone who has a history of standing up to insurance companies and demanding the compensation victims deserve for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Don’t go it alone—call us today!


Below information copyright 2010 Nolo

Proving Fault in Personal Injury Accidents: General Rules

How to decide who is legally at fault for an accident or personal injury.

Determining legal responsibility for an accident or injury (often called "liability") can be complicated, but often rests on whether someone was careless or "negligent." It's easy enough to say that the person or business that caused an accident must pay for your injuries. But before you get to that point, you must determine who was legally at fault.

Determining Legal Liability

Most accidents happen because someone was careless. The basic rule is: If one person involved in an accident was less careful than another, the less careful one must pay for at least a portion of the damages suffered by the more careful one.

Legal liability for almost all accidents is determined by this rule of carelessness, and by one or more of the following simple propositions:

  • If the injured person was where he or she was not supposed to be, or somewhere he or she should have expected the kind of activity which caused the accident, the person who caused the accident might not be liable because that person had no "duty" to be careful toward the injured person.
  • If the injured person was also careless, his or her compensation may be reduced by the extent such carelessness was also responsible for the accident. This is known as comparative negligence.
  • If a negligent person causes an accident while working for someone else, the employer may also be legally responsible for the accident.
  • If an accident is caused on property that is dangerous because it is poorly built or maintained, the owner of the property is liable for being careless in maintaining the property, regardless of whether he or she actually created the dangerous condition.
  • If an accident is caused by a defective product, the manufacturer and seller of the product are both liable even if the injured person doesn't know which one was careless in creating or allowing the defect, or exactly how the defect happened.

When More Than One Person Is at Fault

When there is more than one person responsible for an accident -- for example, if several careless drivers cause a wreck -- the law in most states provides that any one of the careless parties is responsible for compensating you fully for your injuries. The responsible parties must then decide between themselves whether one should reimburse the others.

This rule about collecting from any responsible person provides you with a couple of important advantages. If one liable person is insured and the other is not, you can make your claim against the insured person for the full amount. And even if both are insured, you will have to settle your claim with only one insurance company. Initially, consider everyone you think might be responsible and notify each of them that you may file a claim for damages.  Then, depending on what you discover about how the accident happened, or on which insurance company takes responsibility, you will pursue a claim against only one.

How Your Own Carelessness Affects Your Claim

Even if you were careless and partly caused an accident, in most states you can still get at least some compensation from anyone else who was also careless and partly responsible for the accident. The amount of the other person's liability for the accident is determined by comparing his or her carelessness with your own. The percentage of liability determines the percentage of the resulting damages he or she must pay. This rule is referred to as comparative negligence.

Example

Bob was in a car accident in which he stopped short and was hit from behind. If the other person had been 100% at fault, Bob's medical bills and lost income would entitle him to $1,000. However, the police accident report notes that Bob stopped short because one of a group of children next to a school looked as if he was going to dart into the street. The insurance company for the person whose car hit Bob from behind points out that Bob should have been going slowly enough in the school area to be able to stop without having to slam on his brakes.

In this case, not going slowly enough may have made Bob about 10% negligent. Because of this, the person who hit him is not liable to Bob for the full compensation of $1,000, but for only $900 (100% liability minus Bob's 10% liability = 90% liability).

There is no formula for arriving at a precise number for a person's comparative carelessness. During claim negotiations, you and an insurance adjuster will discuss all the factors that might have resulted in the accident. Then the question of your own carelessness goes into the negotiating hopper along with all the other factors that determine how much your claim is worth -- such as the seriousness of your injury and the amount of your medical bills.

State Restrictions on Recovering Compensation If You Were Careless

Comparative negligence is applied in three slightly different ways, depending on the state where the accident occurred. The more generous states allow you to recover compensation for your injuries in an amount based on the other person's fault no matter how great your own fault was. Most states, however, use a slightly more restrictive rule under which you can't recover anything if your own carelessness was 50% or more responsible for the accident. And a handful of tight-fisted states don't allow you to recover any compensation at all if your fault is any more than "slight" compared to the others involved -- or, worse, if your own carelessness contributed in any way to the accident. (This is called "contributory negligence.") You can find the rules for your state in How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

© 2010 Nolo

Car Accidents: Proving Fault

Establish who's at fault in a car, motorcycle, or bicycle accident or crash.

As with other types of accidents, figuring out who is at fault in a traffic accident is a matter of deciding who was careless -- or "negligent," in legalese.

In many cases common sense will tell you that a driver, cyclist, or pedestrian acted carelessly, but you may not know what laws or rules that person violated. Your argument to an insurance company that another person was at fault for an accident can be strengthened if you find some "official" support for your conclusion. Here are a number of places to look for such support.

Police Reports

If the police came to the scene of your accident, particularly if they knew that someone was injured, they probably made a written accident report. Ask the traffic division of the police department how to get a copy.

Sometimes a police report plainly states an officer's opinion that someone violated a specific traffic law and that the violation caused the accident. It may even state that the officer issued a citation. Other times, the report merely mentions negligent behavior, without plainly stating that the violation caused the accident.

Regardless of how specific it is, any mention in a police report of a traffic law violation or careless driving by another person can serve as great support in showing that the other person was at fault.

State Traffic Laws

Another place to look for support for your argument that the other driver was at fault is in the state laws that govern driving. These rules of the road are contained in each state's statutes and are usually known as the vehicle code.

A simplified version of these laws (sometimes called "The Rules of the Road") is often available at a local department of motor vehicles office. The complete vehicle code is usually available at many public libraries, and all law libraries. You can also browse your state's statutes online using Nolo's help with legal research page.

In the index to the vehicle code, look for listings that may apply to your accident. For example, there may be listings for "speed limits," "right of way," or "roadway markings." If you visit a law library, the librarian may be willing to help you with your search, so don't be afraid to ask. If you find a rule that might apply to your accident, copy not only its exact wording but also the statute number, so that you can refer to it accurately when you negotiate your claim with the insurance company.

"No-Doubt" Liability

If you're involved in certain kinds of accidents, the other driver is at fault 99% of the time, and insurance companies hardly bother to argue about it.

Rear-End Collisions

If someone hits you from behind, it is virtually never your fault, regardless of why you stopped. A basic rule of the road requires a vehicle to be able to stop safely if traffic is stopped ahead of it. If it cannot stop safely, the driver is not driving as safely as the person in front.

The other sure-fire part of the rear-end accident claim is that the damage proves how it happened: If one car's front end is damaged and the other's rear end is, there can't be much argument about who struck whom. Of course, the driver of the car that hit you may have a claim against someone who caused you to stop suddenly, or against a third car that pushed his car into yours, but that doesn't change his or her responsibility for injuries to you and damage to your car.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you have been rear-ended, in a few circumstances your own carelessness may reduce your compensation under the rule of "comparative negligence." A common example is when one or both of your brake or tail lights were out, especially if the accident happened at night. Another example is if you had mechanical problems but failed to do all you could to move the vehicle off the road.

Left-Turn Accidents

A car making a left turn is almost always liable for a collision with a car coming straight in the other direction. Exceptions to this near-automatic rule are rare and difficult to prove, but they can occur if:

  • The car going straight was going well over the speed limit.
  • The car going straight went through a red light.
  • The left-turning car began its turn when it was safe, but something unexpected made it slow down or stop. This is an extremely difficult exception to use because a basic rule of the road says a car making a left turn must wait until it can safely complete the turn before moving in front of oncoming traffic.

As with a rear-end collision, the location of the damage on the cars sometimes makes it difficult for the driver to argue that the accident happened in some way other than during a left turn.

© 2010 Nolo

Car Accidents and Negligence: When You Are Liable for Another Person’s Driving

You may be liable for a car accident and be sued for negligence, even if you weren’t driving or in the car.

In most car accident cases, the key issue is determining which driver is at fault for the accident. Usually, if one driver is negligent -- that is, did not use reasonable care or caution while driving -- he or she will be at fault.

However, in some situations, the law can assign fault to someone who was not driving or even present in the car at the time of the accident. Although this sounds surprising, there are a number of common situations where this can occur.

When an Employee Drives the Car

The law holds employers responsible for wrongful acts, including negligent driving, when they are committed by an employee while the employee is performing job duties. (This comes under the theory of "vicarious liability," or "imputed negligence." When two parties have a certain relationship with one another, the law can hold one party liable for the misconduct of another.)

For example, if you are an employer and your employee runs a red light and hits another car while driving the company car during work hours, you will be responsible for the damages caused by your employee.

Example:Dan is employed by ABC Bread Company to deliver bread to various stores each morning. On route, he rear-ends Jane, injuring her and damaging her car. ABC Bread Company will be responsible for Dan’s actions, because at the time of the accident he was performing his job -- making a delivery. If the accident had occurred on the weekend, when Dan, without permission, drove the delivery truck to Vegas for a weekend of gambling and drinking, ABC Company would not be liable for Dan’s actions.

When You Let Someone Drive Your Car

In some states, car owners are legally responsible for negligent driving by anyone using the owner’s car with the owner’s permission. These state laws don’t require that the parties have a relationship like that of employer-employee. Instead, in states with such laws, once you give someone permission to drive your car, you’re on the hook for their actions.

When Your Kids Drive the Car

In many states, parents are liable for their child’s negligent driving when they let their child use the family car. There are several types of ;laws and legal theories that allow this to happen.

Negligent entrustment. If a parent lends the family car to a minor child knowing the child is incompetent, reckless, or inexperienced, the parent may be liable for damage caused by the child’s driving. This legal theory is called negligent entrustment (see “When You Let an Incompetent or Unfit Driver Use Your Car,” below).

The family purpose doctrine.Some states adopt the “family purpose” doctrine. In those states, when someone purchases and maintains a car for general family use, the owner of that vehicle (generally, dad or mom) is liable for negligent driving by any family member using the car.

Signing a minor’s driver’s license application. Some states have laws that make the person who signs a minor’s driver’s license application legally responsible for the minor's negligent driving. So, if a parent signs the application, the parent will be liable for the child’s negligent driving.

When You Let an Incompetent or Unfit Driver Use Your Car

If you lend your car to an incompetent, reckless, or unfit driver, and that driver, through his or her negligent driving, causes a car accident, you will be liable for injuries and damage resulting from the accident. This is called negligent entrustment.

In a negligent entrustment case, the plaintiff (the person bringing the law suit) must prove that the car owner knew, or should have known, that the driver was incompetent at the time that permission was given.

When Is a Driver Incompetent, Reckless, or Unfit?

Lending your car to the following types of people can mean you have committed negligent entrustment, and you could be liable for any damages caused by the driver.

Intoxicated driver. Lending your car to someone who is drunk, or likely to become so, may be negligent entrustment.

Unlicensed and underage driver. Lending your car to a minor not old enough to legally drive is likely to be negligent entrustment.

Inexperienced driver. Letting an inexperienced driver -- such as a minor with only a learner’s permit -- drive your car unsupervised is another example of negligent entrustment.

Elderly driver. Just as someone can be liable for lending a car to a minor, lending a vehicle to someone whose advanced age makes them unfit to drive (for example, an elderly driver with particularly slow reaction times) can constitute negligent entrustment.

Ill driver. Lending a car to a driver who suffers from an illness that affects his or her driving -- for example, a person prone to falling asleep at the wheel -- could constitute negligent entrustment.

Previously reckless driver. You could be liable for negligent entrustment if you lend your car to someone who you know has a history of reckless driving.

Getting Help

If you have been involved in a car accident and are thinking of suing someone other than the driver of the other vehicle (or in addition to the driver of the other vehicle), you probably want to speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer. If you decide to consult a lawyer, go straight to Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.

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