Tennessee, like most states throughout the country, imposes limitations on how long plaintiffs have to bring their legal claims, including claims for personal injury. These limitations ensure that claims must be brought within a reasonable amount of time and that plaintiffs cannot simply sit on claims for years before deciding to bring them.
Statutes of limitations are one of the most common ways that plaintiffs accidentally lose their opportunity to bring a lawsuit. Unless very special circumstances exist, after a statute of limitations has passed, a plaintiff is out of luck. For this reason, both plaintiffs and their attorneys must pay close attention to statute of limitations deadlines in order to avoid accidentally losing their opportunity for justice and compensation.
In a recent Tennessee car accident lawsuit, the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed precisely this type of circumstance. In this case, J.P. was injured after she was involved in an accident caused by B.L. on February 2, 2015. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Tennessee is one year, so J.P. brought a lawsuit against B.L. on February 2, 2016. Unbeknownst to her at the time, B.L. had died on January 4, 2016. Several months after filing her complaint, J.P. learned of B.L.’s death and sought to bring her claim against B.L.’s estate instead. At the time, B.L.’s estate did not have an administrator, so J.P. petitioned for an administrator and in October 2016, moved to amend her complaint to name the administrator as the defendant.
B.L.’s estate immediately moved to dismiss the amended complaint as being untimely because the statute of limitations had passed. The trial court agreed with B.L.’s estate that the statute of limitations for the claim against the administrator had passed and granted the motion to dismiss. J.P. appealed.
In Tennessee, as mentioned above, personal injury plaintiffs have one year to bring their lawsuit. Normally, if a defendant dies before a lawsuit is commenced, a plaintiff simply loses his or her claim. However, under Tennessee’s survival statute, the plaintiff may instead bring the claim against the deceased defendant’s estate. The survival statute provides that when a defendant dies, the statute of limitations is paused for six months following the death. However, after the six-month period, the statute of limitations starts up again, and if the plaintiff does not file a claim against the estate within that period of time, the claim is lost.
Here, the plaintiff’s claim arose on February 2, 2015. However, on January 4, 2016, B.L. passed away, and J.P.’s statute of limitations was paused for six months. When that six-month period expired, on July 4, 2016, J.P. had only 29 days left on her statute of limitations. Thus, she was required to plead her claim against the administrator of B.L.’s estate in early August in order for the claim to be timely. Instead, J.P. did not bring her claim against the administrator until October 2016.
J.P. and her counsel argued that the statute of limitations should have been paused for them until July 2016, when they first discovered that B.L. had passed away. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that they could have known that B.L. passed away in February 2016 when they filed their lawsuit, but they overlooked this information until July 2016. According to the court, J.P. could not extend her statute of limitations simply by virtue of her own ignorance. Accordingly, the court concluded that J.P. had indeed allowed her statute of limitations to expire and could no longer bring her claim.
Statutes of limitations must be taken very seriously by parties and attorneys alike. You should always double and triple check when the last day is to bring your claim, and you should give yourself plenty of time before that deadline to get your lawsuit filed. When first meeting with an attorney, the statute of limitations is always a detail that you should ask a potential attorney to discuss. Experienced Tennessee auto accident attorney Eric Beasley is well-versed in the statutes of limitations for Tennessee and other potential deadlines that might arise in your case. 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:
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.
The Risks and Rewards of Jury Trials for Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 4, 2016