What Happens If I Lose A Trial in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case In Tennessee?

I have a jury trial in state court in Nashville in a couple weeks in my car wreck case.   Do I have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees or other costs if the jury rules against me?

Ordinarily, a person who loses a jury trial in personal injury or wrongful death case in state court in Tennessee does not have to pay the winning party’s attorney’s fees.  However, the losing party may have to pay certain costs incurred by the winning party, such as costs for expert witnesses to give depositions and appear at trial, costs charged court reporters, etc.  These costs are known as "discretionary costs" because a trial judge has the discretion to order that the loser pay some or all of certain costs incurred by loser.   Your lawyer should be able to estimate what those costs would be.  

The only time you would have to pay the winning party’s attorney’s fees after a loss in a personal injury or wrongful death case  is if the trial judge determined that your lawsuit was "frivolous."   The mere fact that a case is lost does not mean it is frivolous.   You should ask your lawyer whether there is any risk that your case could be determined frivolous by the trial judge, but my experience is that it would be very uncommon for a judge to declare that a car wreck claim or defense was "frivolous."  The only exceptions I can think would arise in situations where it was determined that a person faked (not just exaggerated, but truly faked) an injury, encouraged or paid others to give patently false testimony in support of the case, and other situations that are extremely rare.

There are some different rules that apply in medical malpractice cases.  Also, in non-personal injury and wrongful death cases there are quite of few situations in which the losing party can be forced to pay the winning party’s fees and expenses.  Be sure to ask your lawyer whether there is any risk of fees and expenses being awarded in your case.


 John Day represents personal injury victims and families of wrongful death victims.  He is board-certified as a civil trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and, in fact, served as President of the organization. He is an elected member of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers.  His book, "Day on Torts:   Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law," is used by judges and lawyers across Tennessee to further their understanding of personal injury and wrongful death law in Tennessee.  In 2009, Best Lawyers named John "Best Personal Injury Lawyer" for Nashville; he was the first recipient of that award. Best Lawyers also  named John as "Best Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Nashville" for 2010.   John does not charge for an initial consultation and accepts personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingent  fee basis.  You can reach him by telephone at 615.742.4880 or by email by clicking here.

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