What Are Tennessee's Car Insurance Requirements?
In Tennessee, as in every state, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim brought after a traffic accident. Under the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law, vehicle owners are required to demonstrate their ability to cover financial losses if they end up causing a car accident. The primary method of complying with this law is to purchase liability insurance coverage. Read on for the details of Tennessee's auto insurance rules, how coverage is likely to affect a car accident case, and the kinds of penalties you can expect if you drive without insurance in the state.
Tennessee is a "Fault" Car Accident State
Tennessee follows a traditional "fault"-based system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident: injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on. This means that the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm (from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier will absorb these losses, up to policy limits).
In Tennessee, a person who suffers any kind of injury or damage due to an auto accident usually can proceed in one of three ways:
- by filing a claim with his or her own insurance company, assuming that the loss is covered under the policy (in this situation, the injured person's insurance company will likely turn around and pursue a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver’s carrier)
- by filing a third-party claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, or
- by filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver.
Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. After a car accident in a no-fault state, you must turn to the personal injury protection coverage of your own car insurance policy for payment of medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim directly against the at-fault driver. But Tennessee drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.
Car Insurance Requirements in Tennessee
As mentioned above, the primary method of complying with the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law is to purchase liability car insurance coverage. The required minimum amounts of coverage in Tennessee are:
- $25,000 liability coverage for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
- $50,000 liability coverage for total bodily injury or death liability in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
- $15,000 liability coverage for property damage per accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle.
Liability coverage pays the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who are injured or have their vehicle damaged in a car accident you cause, up to coverage limits. You can (and in some situations should) carry more coverage to protect you in case a serious crash results in significant car accident injuries and vehicle damage. Once policy limits are exhausted, you are personally on the financial hook, so higher insurance limits can help protect your personal assets in the event of a serious crash.
Your liability coverage will kick in if any family member is driving your vehicle, or if you've given someone else permission to use it. It will likely also cover you if you don't get into an accident into a rental car.
By David Goguen, J.D.