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Tennessee has a short statute of limitations compared to many states. Thus, it is not unusual for a person injured in a Knoxville car accident to have his or her case dismissed because it was not filed within the applicable limitations period. This much is to be expected.

What may come as more of a surprise, however, is a situation in which the party moving for the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case is his or her own insurance company. This very thing happened in a recent case in which the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist insurance company filed a motion to dismiss his suit as untimely because of an alleged defect in the complaint – even though the complaint itself was timely-filed.

Facts of the Case

In a car accident case that recently made its way to the intermediate court of appeals, the plaintiff was a man who was involved in an automobile accident on December 2, 2017. He filed suit on November 30, 2018, seeking to recover monetary compensation for certain personal injuries that he suffered as a result of the wreck. The plaintiff served a copy of the complaint against his own uninsured motorist insurance carrier, who was an “unnamed defendant” to the suit.

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No east Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit will be successful unless the plaintiff can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant breached at least one duty of care that was owed to him or her and that this breach of duty was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks compensation. However, proving the essential elements of negligence is just one step in the process of asserting one’s legal rights following a loved one’s death caused by another individual, a business, or a governmental entity.

The reality is that, regardless of how strong the plaintiff’s case might be, recovering fair compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death case depends heavily on whether or not the negligent party was insured. Technically, the plaintiff can pursue collection on a judgment by attaching the defendant’s assets, garnishing his or her wages, and the like, but this is usually a very slow process and one that, at best, typically yields only a fraction of the amount of money to which the plaintiff was entitled.

Because of the power of the insurance company lobbyists, jurors rarely hear a word about insurance. The insurance company would much rather jurors believe that every penny of a judgment was coming out of the defendant’s pocket – the idea being that a lower judgment will result when a person, not a big insurance company, is paying the plaintiff what he or she is due. Sometimes, however, there are cases in which the insurance company is front and center in a lawsuit.

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An east Tennessee product liability case may involve multiple defendants and various theories of liability. In many cases, both the manufacturer and the seller of the product are named as defendants, and sometimes there are other potentially liable parties as well. Legal theories may include a design flaw that affected a great many products, or there may be an allegation that a manufacturing defect affected only a few products. Failure to warn may also be asserted.

As the case develops toward trial, it is possible that some defendants and/or legal theories may be eliminated through a process known as “summary judgment.” When a court grants summary judgment, it is essentially saying that a particular defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on one or more of the claims asserted by the plaintiff. Summary judgment does not necessarily end the plaintiff’s case, however, as there may still be viable legal theories remaining against a defendant (or multiple defendants) that have not been dismissed from the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal district court case, the plaintiffs sought to assert a product liability action against the defendants, whom they alleged negligently designed and/or manufactured a heated throw blanket that allegedly caused a fire in the plaintiffs’ home in 2018, resulting in both personal injuries and property damage. As evidence of their claim, the plaintiffs submitted video surveillance footage showing, first, a bright flash from an area around the blanket’s control, and, over five hours later, additional flashes, smoke, and, eventually, a fire.
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In a Knoxville premises liability lawsuit, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. Accordingly, he or she must have credible evidence proving that the defendant breached the duty of care that was owed to him or her under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, evidence of the proper owner’s negligence can disappear quickly. The accident scene may change when an employee cleans up the spill in which the customer slipped and fell. Video surveillance may be “recorded over” if not preserved. Even information about eyewitnesses may be lost over time.

Because of the compelling need to avoid spoliation of the evidence in a slip and fall case, it is important that the plaintiff seek legal counsel in a timely fashion. This can also help avoid the running of the statute of limitations, which is quite short for such matters in Tennessee.

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All personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations. The limitations period for filing an action is established by statute and can vary from state to state.

Tennessee has some of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country when it comes to lawsuits for, for instance, automobile accidents caused by negligence. Generally speaking, a person hurt by another’s negligence in a Knoxville car accident has just one short year to file a claim, or else his or her right to seek compensation is forfeited.

Of course, the one-year filing period is only a guideline. As the case discussed below indicates, there may occasionally be exceptions to the general rule, as circumstances can occasionally extend (or, sometimes, reduce) the limitations period, so it is very important to talk to a lawyer if you or someone in your family has been involved in a motor vehicle collision.

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Lawsuits against governmental entities for the allegedly negligent acts of their employees can be difficult. As with other defendants accused of negligence, the government resists being held accountable in many East Tennessee personal injury cases.

Generally, the argument is that the employee in question acted reasonably under the circumstances presented and that the plaintiff was the one at fault. However, this is not always the government’s strategy.

A recent case against a large county school system was the “exception that proves the rule,” so to speak. In this case, the governmental entity insisted that its employee’s conduct was so egregious as to not be considered negligence, thus removing the case from the statute under which the injured party pursued compensation.

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In a Knoxville product liability lawsuit, one of the first considerations is whether the plaintiff has “standing” to sue. Standing is a legal concept that simply means a litigant must have a sufficient enough connection to the action at issue to support that party’s participation in the case.

If a party lacks standing, there is no reason for the case to move forward. The courts are busy enough without entertaining cases that would clearly be a waste of judicial economy.

Of course, opinions can vary on the issue of standing, just as they can on many other issues that arise during the litigation process. Like other decisions involving whether a case should move forward, there is the possibility of an appeal if one party is disgruntled with the trial court’s ruling on standing.

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Tennessee follows a principle of negligence known as “comparative fault.” Initially established by case law back in the 1990s, this doctrine holds that, in a Tennessee personal injury case in which a plaintiff seeks money damages for injuries allegedly caused by another’s negligence, the finder of fact is to make a finding as to the relative fault of the various parties to the lawsuit.

In other words, the plaintiff’s fault is to be “compared” to that of the defendant. If the defendant is not found to be more at fault than the plaintiff, then the plaintiff’s case fails. (Tennessee is a “modified” comparative negligence state; in some states, the outcome of a case involving two equally negligent parties could differ.)

This idea seems simple enough, at least when there are only one plaintiff and one defendant. However, there are many cases in which this is not so; when there are multiple defendants, for instance, the jury must determine not only the relative fault between the plaintiff and the defendants but also compare the fault of the defendants among them so that, if the plaintiff prevails in the suit, the amount due him or her from each defendant can be determined.

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One of the foremost considerations in a Knoxville personal injury lawsuit is whether the would-be plaintiff has standing to file suit. “Standing,” in the legal sense, means that the person who is seeking redress has a right to relief under the law.

This may seem like a straightforward question, but it can be a more complex issue than one might imagine. This is especially true in cases involving persons who have passed away.

Determining who has standing to sue on behalf of a person who, had he or she lived, had the right to bring a lawsuit against an allegedly negligent individual can be a matter of statutory law in some cases. It may also be resolved based on prior case law in some situations.

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If you have never been involved in a lawsuit involving uninsured motorist insurance coverage, you might be surprised to find that the insured individual and their insurance company are in an adversarial relationship in such proceedings. In other words, in an east Tennessee car accident case, to determine the amount due an insured person who has been hurt by the negligence of an uninsured motorist, the injured person is on the opposite side of the lawsuit as his or her insurance company.

Although the case may not be styled in the case of “insured versus insurer,” the reality is that the insurance company is the real defendant in the case because it is the party who will be paying out any monies awarded to the plaintiff. It is possible that the insurance company may eventually recoup some of these funds from the party that caused the crash, but a full recovery is unlikely.

Therefore, the insurance company effectively stands in the shoes of the at-fault, uninsured motorist during the litigation of the case and may assert the same types of defenses that the motorist could have asserted had he or she been present at trial. Of course, the insurance company may have a few defenses of its own, in addition.

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