In Tennessee and all other states, it is almost always negligence for an operator of a vehicle to rear-end another vehicle stopped ahead in the roadway. A vehicle can be stopped for a number of reasons: it may be waiting in a line of traffic, it may be disabled or it may have stopped to avoid hitting an animal or to allow an animal to get to safety. It is typically not a defense to a claim of damages for injury or death from a rear-end car crash that the rear-ended vehicle stopped for an improper reason.
A recent rear-end accident in Tennessee may illustrate the point. The operator of a 2009 Kia had stopped in a northbound direction on Highway 99 to let a turtle cross the road. The 20-year-old male operator of a 2001 Nissan crashed into the rear of the stationary Kia, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
A three-month-old baby, who was properly restrained in a rear seat, was killed in the car crash. Two other children and two adults occupying the Kia were taken to a hospital with injuries. The collision occurred at about 11 a.m. It is not a defense to argue that the Kia should not have stopped for a turtle. The law foresees that there are many reasons why a car or even a pedestrian may be on a roadway in a stationary position.
It is the basic rule in all jurisdictions, including Tennessee, that a driver has the duty to observe all cars or persons that are stopped ahead on the roadway. An operator must maintain an assured safe distance from other vehicles ahead in order to stop without hitting them. A violation of this rule would normally constitute actionable negligence. In this case, it gives the family of the decedent child a potential wrongful death claim against the Nissan driver for negligently causing the car crash and the death of the child.
Source: wkrn.com, "Baby killed, 5 others injured in 2-vehicle collision in Murfreesboro", April 3, 2015