The car insurance company says I am partially at fault for the car wreck. Should I still consult an attorney?
The short answer is yes, but it wasn't always this way in Tennessee. For many years Tennessee was a contributory negligence state. That meant that if an accident was even 1% your fault you could not recover any damages through the Tennessee legal system. Thankfully, in 1992 Tennessee adopted a modified comparative fault system in the landmark case of McIntyre v. Balentine. Rather than completely barring someone from recovery if they are partially at fault in car wreck in Tennessee, comparative fault allows a person to recover damages depending on their percentage of fault in the accident.
Under pure comparative fault a person can recover damages in a car accident even if they are mostly at fault. If Jack and Jill are in a car accident and Jack is 95% at fault, Jack could in theory sue Jill for damages. However, it is likely that Jill would also file a lawsuit against Jack and whatever award Jack was granted would be minimal compared to that which Jill would be granted since the accident was almost entirely Jack's fault. In the grand scheme it is really quite pointless for Jack to even file a lawsuit in this situation. For that reason Tennessee adopted the "modified" comparative fault system.
The modified comparative fault system allows a person to recover damages for an accident as long as their fault is less than that of the opposing party. So, if you are in an accident that is partially your fault you may still be able to recover damages for your medical bills, property damages, pain and suffering, etc. An injured person is not entitled to any recovery if the person was 50% or more at fault for causing the damages. Ultimately, a jury and not an insurance adjustor makes this finding.
You may be asking, "what if I'm not sure who was more at fault in my accident?" Car wrecks are determined on a factual case by case basis. Even if you think that an accident was 50% your fault, you may want to at least consult an experienced Tennessee injury attorney. In Tennessee, if a jury or judge finds that you are 49% at fault or less, you are still entitled to a fair recovery but your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
It is important to understand the principal of fairness that is at the heart of comparative fault. The goal is to create a system that is much more reasonable than contributory negligence. Under comparative fault, a person is only entitled to the percentage of the damage that was not caused by their own negligence or irresponsibility. For example, if at trial it is determined that you were 20% at fault in your accident, then you are entitled to 80% of the damages you incurred as a result of the accident.