Let's look at a hypothetical Tennessee car accident case to get an idea of how a settlement might play out.
Kyle is driving through an intersection in Nashville when he is “T-boned” by a car coming the other way. The intersection had no stop sign or traffic light. The other car hit Kyle’s car in the rear passenger-side door, spun Kyle’s car around, and knocked it into a parked car. Kyle suffered a broken left shoulder, broken vertebra, and lacerated kidney.
The police arrived and called an ambulance to take Kyle to the hospital. Kyle was hospitalized for seven days and underwent surgeries on both his back and kidney. He followed up with an orthopedist and kidney specialist for months. After a few months, he was ready for physical therapy, and, about one year post-accident, he was about 90% recovered. His doctors felt that he should be fully recovered in another year.
Kyle is a landscaper and missed nine months of work.
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit. In Tennessee, the statute of limitations for lawsuits over car accident injuries is only one year. This means if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have just one year from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. If the accident involved only vehicle damage, you have three years to file a lawsuit.
Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, you should turn the matter over to an experienced Tennessee car accident lawyer.
Kyle wants to make sure that the insurance adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. While in a case like Kyle’s -- a T bone collision -- the striking vehicle is often at fault, Kyle needs to be aware of the rules of comparative negligence because the insurer of the person that hit him is definitely going to claim that Kyle was negligent for not giving the other driver the right of way through the intersection.
In any personal injury case where you are found to be in part negligent in connection with the underlying accident, Tennessee follows a “modified comparative fault” rule, where your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 40% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $60,000. However, if you were found to be 50% or more at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever under Tennessee law.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Tennessee's car insurance laws. If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Kyle’s case, his out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $120,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Kyle and his attorney decide that another $300,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Kyle’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $400,000 to settle the claim.
The defendant’s adjuster advises that the defendant only has $200,000 in liability coverage, and offers that amount. Kyle has no underinsured motorist coverage of his own, so, before he agrees to accept the policy limits, he has a financial investigation performed on the defendant to determine if he has any assets that Kyle might be able to recover. It turns out that the defendant had nothing worth taking (no house, no significant assets), and so Kyle accepts $200,000 to settle the case.
Remember, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before Tennessee's one-year statute of limitations window closes. But you also don’t want to settle too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI. In Kyle’s case, he was at MMI, and so he was ready to settle. Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.