Tennessee Court Dismisses Auto Accident Case Where Administrator for Tortfeasor’s Estate was not Properly Appointed

Tennessee law imposes time limitations for pursuing certain claims. For example, a personal injury lawsuit has to be filed within one year of the date of an accident. In some cases, even if a plaintiff initially files a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, his or her claim may nonetheless be time barred, if he or she fails to comply with other procedural requirements.

This was illustrated in a recent case decided by the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, where the plaintiffs’ case was dismissed due to the failure to have an administrator appointed to the tortfeasor’s estate within the statute of limitations, despite filing the initial complaint in time. If you were injured in a Tennessee car accident, you should speak with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible to avoid waiving your right to recover damages.

Factual Scenario

Reportedly, the plaintiffs were involved in a car accident with the tortfeasor on May 11, 2015. They filed a lawsuit against the tortfeasor on March 30, 2016, which was within the one year statute of limitations for filing a personal injury action under Tennessee law. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs received notification from the tortfeasor’s insurance company that the tortfeasor passed away after the accident. The plaintiffs then filed an underinsured/uninsured motorist lawsuit against their own insurer, to seek benefits for the damages caused by the accident. The insurer objected, arguing that the plaintiffs had not provided proper notice.

It is alleged that the tortfeasor did not have a personal representative after he died.  Under Tennessee law, however, a plaintiff can have a representative appointed by a chancery court. Based on the foregoing, on May 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion requesting that the circuit court appoint an administrator so that they could pursue their claims against the tortfeasor’s estate. The circuit court appointed an administrator to the tortfeasor’s estate and the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in the lawsuit against the tortfeasor, naming the administrator as the defendant. The plaintiffs’ insurer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiffs failed to pursue the lawsuit against the tortfeasor’s estate within the statute of limitations and that the court lacked jurisdiction to appoint an administrator. The administrator then filed a motion to dismiss based on several grounds, which the court granted. The plaintiffs appealed.

Circuit Court’s Jurisdiction to Appoint an Administrator

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. The court noted that the circuit court lacked the jurisdiction to appoint an administrator, which was within the sole domain of the chancery court. The court stated that the action against the tortfeasor’s estate could only proceed if an administrator was appointed within the statute of limitations. Further, the court held that a plaintiff must establish the liability of a tortfeasor prior to recovering uninsured/underinsured motorist damages from their own insurer. The court further explained that if the statute of limitations runs in the claim against the tortfeasor, a claim cannot be pursued against the plaintiff’s insurer. Here, the court found that an administrator was not properly appointed prior to the running of the statute of limitations. As such, both cases were time barred.

Meet with an Experienced Tennessee Car Accident Attorney

If you were involved in a car accident in Tennessee and wish to pursue a lawsuit, it is important to act in a timely manner or you may lose the right to pursue your claim. Attorney Eric Beasley is an experienced Tennessee car accident attorney who can provide you with thorough and effective representation in your case. Mr. Beasley can be contacted at 615-859-2223 or through the online form to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Tennessee Supreme Court Holds Negligent Husband Has Priority For Wrongful Death Claim, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, Marchn13, 2018.