Tennessee follows a principle of negligence known as “comparative fault.” Initially established by case law back in the 1990s, this doctrine holds that, in a Tennessee personal injury case in which a plaintiff seeks money damages for injuries allegedly caused by another’s negligence, the finder of fact is to make a finding as to the relative fault of the various parties to the lawsuit.
In other words, the plaintiff’s fault is to be “compared” to that of the defendant. If the defendant is not found to be more at fault than the plaintiff, then the plaintiff’s case fails. (Tennessee is a “modified” comparative negligence state; in some states, the outcome of a case involving two equally negligent parties could differ.)
This idea seems simple enough, at least when there are only one plaintiff and one defendant. However, there are many cases in which this is not so; when there are multiple defendants, for instance, the jury must determine not only the relative fault between the plaintiff and the defendants but also compare the fault of the defendants among them so that, if the plaintiff prevails in the suit, the amount due him or her from each defendant can be determined.