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Negligence Per Se: Proving Liability in Tennessee Car Accidents


From 2008-2012, Tennessee averaged about 164,000 auto accidents per year, resulting in approximately 46,000 people being injured per year and another 928 fatalities per year. The huge human toll from Tennessee auto accidents has spurred the development of many traffic safety statutes designed to protect the public. For instance, to reduce distracted driving, Tennessee law prohibits texting while driving. These safety statutes are designed to discourage dangerous and reckless behavior that can put innocent drivers on the road at risk for catastrophic injuries and fatalities. Despite the existence of many statutes designed to promote safe driving, many drivers either intentionally or unintentionally violate these traffic safety laws. When a violation of one of these laws causes a car accident resulting in injuries, the violation of the statute itself may be the basis for a finding that the driver was negligent. The attorneys of Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz, PLC (“NST Law”) have represented those injured in car accidents throughout the State of Tennessee for over 24 years. We have handled many cases where a violation of vehicle safety laws was a basis for imposing liability for the resulting accident and injuries.

Tennessee auto accident law permits a violation of a traffic safety law to be the basis for applying the legal doctrine of “negligence per se.” This literally means negligence as a matter of law. The notion is that if a driver violates a law that is designed to protect public safety, the violation itself creates a presumption that the driver was negligent. The driver who violated the law may rebut the presumption by providing evidence that the driver was not negligent or establishing that the violation was somehow excused. A common example would be a driver who is driving while under the influence of alcohol. DUI/DWI laws are designed to protect unsuspecting motorists from drunk drivers. If a driver is found to have violated the law making it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level above .08%, this would be sufficient to create a presumption that the driver was negligent. The driver could try to rebut that presumption by introducing evidence that his driving was flawless and that the other driver’s conduct caused the accident but would face a tough task.

The most common way that the violation of a safety standard can be established in a civil lawsuit involving a serious auto accident is by reference to a police report. Any serious accident will typically result in a police investigation, which will lead to a report as well as an officer’s conclusion about who is at fault in the accident. The officer may specifically reference a traffic safety violation in his report as the cause of the accident. The officer may also issue a traffic citation that can also be used to establish a violation of the traffic safety law. However, the officer’s report is not necessarily the only evidence that may be used to establish a violation. Even if the officer’s report does not address the issue of a violation of any particular traffic law, such a violation can still be established by introducing independent evidence including witness testimony. Since memories may fade as time goes on, NST Law will attempt to locate and interview any witnesses as soon as possible after the accident to establish liability.

Even if a driver successfully establishes that the other driver was negligent per se because of the violation of a traffic safety statute, it does not necessarily mean that the defendant is liable for damages. The auto accident victim must also establish that the driver who violated the statute proximately caused the victim’s injuries and that the victim actually suffered injuries. Also, it is not the case that every law that has some relationship to driving will necessarily be considered a public safety law. A law must be one designed to protect public safety to be the basis for a finding of negligence per se. The attorneys of Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz have been representing those seriously injured in car accidents for over 24 years and stay up to date with changes in Tennessee law. Our Tennessee car accident attorneys have a thorough knowledge of how to determine if a safety statute has been violated and how to prove that violation. NST Law attorneys have been nationally recognized by Super Lawyers, which rates the top 5% of lawyers in the country. Call NST Law today for your free initial consultation.