Proving Negligence in Tennessee Law | The Law Offices of G Turner Howard III

A personal injury lawsuit can be pursued in Tennessee when someone else’s recklessness or carelessness, whether from actions or inactions, caused personal injury or damage to property. In these types of claims, the person seeking damages is called the plaintiff, while the person being taken to court is called the defendant. Proving negligence in Tennessee law means that you must prove that you were not entirely or partially at fault, and that the defendant’s actions or inactions caused damages, pain and suffering, and/or lost wages. Read on to discover what you need to know about proving negligence in Tennessee.


Negligence refers to a defendant’s action or inaction that a reasonable, ordinary person would not have taken. Some examples of this include the following:

  • Reckless driving – This can include texting while driving, drinking while driving, or even talking while driving, along with failure to follow traffic laws such as speeding, ignoring road signals, or following too close.
  • Failure to restrain a dangerous dog – When someone’s dog bites or injures another person, negligence would only be proven if the dog is known to be dangerous, meaning that the defendant was aware that the dog could be potentially harmful. In this case, the plaintiff can pursue the case of negligence and receive compensation from the defendant.
  • Marketing or manufacturing a product or service that is known to cause harm – For example, if a pharmaceutical company or car manufacturer knows, through its own testing or through reporting, that there is a high degree of probability its product can cause personal injury or death, the company can be held liable for bringing this product to market or not recalling it. When the administration of certain medical services or failure to do so causes personal injury or death, the plaintiff can pursue the case of negligence in Tennessee.
  • Failure to make repairs on a property that otherwise would be dangerous – An example of this would be a loose handrail on apartment steps that were not fixed and caused the defendant to become injured on the stairs.

Proving Negligence

Proving negligence in Tennessee means that the plaintiff must prove that they were less than 50 percent at fault for the injuries or damages suffered and that the five elements of negligence in Tennessee are proven.

Modified Comparative Fault

Tennessee is one of thirty-three states that recognize a Modified Comparative Fault rule and one of twelve that follow the 50 percent Bar Rule. This means that if the plaintiff is 50 percent or more at fault, the plaintiff often cannot recover damages from the defendant. In some Modified Comparative Fault jurisdictions, if the defendant was only 50 percent at fault, damages are split.

Five Elements of Negligence

To prove negligence in Tennessee, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a Duty of Care, that the Duty of Care was breached, and that there was Cause in Fact, Proximate Cause, and Damages suffered.

Duty of Care

To prove negligence, a judge must determine whether the defendant had a duty of care to the plaintiff. This means that if a reasonable person would conclude that the defendant was obligated to look out for the welfare of the plaintiff, the defendant would owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

Breach of Duty

If the Duty of Care is proven, then it must be proven that there was a breach of this duty of care. If the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in their actions, then they have breached their duty of care.

Cause in Fact, or the “but for” Causation

The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant caused their injury. A plaintiff must prove that they would not have been injured, but for the defendant’s negligence or actions, they were injured. This is why Cause in Fact causation is also referred to as “but-for” causation.

Proximate Cause

In a lawsuit for damages due to negligence or some other wrong, the plaintiff must claim proximate cause, meaning they must prove that the negligent act of the defendant was the proximate cause of the damages to the plaintiff, and not some other reason. Sometimes there are other causes at play that can either reduce the amount of responsibility of the defendant or eliminate their liability entirely.


Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that actual damages were suffered because of the defendant’s negligence. The defendant’s breach of duty must have resulted in personal injury, lost wages, and/or damage to property.


If you or a loved one suffers and injury or dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, you have every right under Tennessee law to pursue the defendant in court for damages. However, to prove negligence you must prove that you were not at fault. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney will give you the best opportunity to prove the elements of negligence.

Knoxville Car, Truck, Motorcycle & Bicycle Accident Attorney

If you’ve been injured in any type of vehicle wreck in which you believe you were not at fault, we recommend that you contact the Law Offices of G. Turner Howard III immediately following the accident or as soon as possible. We will fight for you and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. You will not receive any fees until we win for you.


After spending his secondary years of study at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, G Turner Howard III earned his BA at Tulane University. A member of the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, he received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Before becoming an attorney, he earned a Master’s and Doctor of Divinity at Andrews Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary. He also served as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army in Vietnam. With more than 20 years of experience, his firm has helped clients receive millions of dollars for personal injury, and in many cases, much faster than they ever expected.
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