The way lawsuits are structured presumes that plaintiffs will usually know which defendant they want to sue. They will know the name of their neighbor or doctor or employer and be able to identify that person in a lawsuit. Sometimes, however, it isn’t so simple. You may want to sue a manager who inspected the equipment that injured you but not know that person’s exact name, for example. In those instances, plaintiffs typically use “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” to stand in for an unidentified individual. While cases can proceed against Does for some period of time, courts will require that they eventually be identified or be dismissed.
For instance, in a recent Tennessee auto accident case, S.S. brought claims against K.S. for being hit by a truck driven by K.S. while at a truck stop. S.S. also sued K.S.’s employer, CCI. During the course of discovery, CCI learned about the possibility that another individual had actually hit S.S. Specifically, CCI learned that a 911 tape of the accident existed. It requested a copy of the tape first by subpoena and then by public record request. Once it had the tape, it located the number of the man who had called in, found him, and deposed him. He testified that S.S. had in fact been hit by an unidentified driver driving an Averitt tractor trailer truck.
When CCI learned this, they moved to amend their complaint to add an affirmative defense that Averitt and the John Doe driver were responsible for the accident. Averitt moved to strike the affirmative defense, arguing that CCI had not properly identified the John Doe, and, since they could not identify him, the claim should be dismissed. The lower court agreed and dismissed the affirmative defense. CCI appealed.
On appeal, CCI argued that they should have been given more time to investigate and identify the unknown driver. CCI contended that they had worked quickly to locate the tape, identify the caller, and narrow down the possible alternative defendants, but they needed time to request records from Averitt to determine who the driver could be. Averitt argued that CCI should not be allowed to name them when they couldn’t actually identify which driver might have caused the accident.
The Court of Appeals held that despite the high abuse of discretion standard, the lower court had abused their discretion by striking CCI’s affirmative defenses. The court held that it was clear from the record that CCI had been acting promptly in trying to resolve John Doe’s identity, but they needed the opportunity to conduct additional discovery in order to determine his real name. The Court of Appeals concluded that CCI was entitled to more time before any affirmative defense against John Doe was dismissed and that the lower court had acted prematurely in striking the affirmative defenses. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded, instructing the court to reinstate the affirmative defenses asserted by CCI.
As this case makes clear, plaintiffs or defendants not initially able to identify an important party should not fear naming a Jane Doe or John Doe to start. However, the parties must be diligent in attempting to locate the real names and identities of any Does to avoid future issues with their claims. While Does may initially be acceptable, a party must be identified in time for them to prepare for trial.
Experienced Tennessee auto accident attorney Eric Beasley has filed and investigated claims involving Jane or John Does and can help you craft a strategy for uncovering unidentified parties. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.
Related Blog Posts:
Tennessee Court Reminds Plaintiffs to Be Wary of Statute of Limitations, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 24, 2018
Sixth Circuit Overturns Harsh Pleading Standards in Auto Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 6, 2016.
Determining Damages In Tennessee When The Jury’s Verdict Exceeds The Amount Requested, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 2, 2016.