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Court of Appeals of Tennessee Reverses Summary Judgment to UM Carrier on Statute of Limitations Grounds

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If you or a loved one has been hurt in a Knoxville car accident, three of the most important words to you right now should be “statute of limitations.” Failing to file your claim by this important deadline can seriously jeopardize your chances of recovering fair compensation.

For this reason, it is critically important to consult an attorney as soon as possible after an accident so that he or she can be investigating the case and preparing the necessary paperwork so that untimeliness will not be an issue in your case. It is important to note that Tennessee has a very short statute of limitations for personal injury claims – just one year. The deadline can slip past very quickly, especially in a serious accident in which the plaintiff’s physical recovery is ongoing or in a wrongful death case in which a family is grieving the loss of a loved one.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case originating in Shelby County, the plaintiff was a man who was involved in a car accident on May 5, 2011. He filed a civil warrant in general sessions court on April 24, 2012, seeking to hold the allegedly negligent driver liable for certain damages resulting from the accident. Both the original summons and an alias summons issued on January 24, 2013, were returned unserved. On July 22, 2013, an amended alias warrant was issued. The plaintiff’s uninsured motorist (UM) carrier was added as a defendant and was served on July 31, 2013.

The UM carrier filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the claim against it was barred by Tennessee’s one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. The general sessions court denied the motion and entered judgment for the plaintiff. The UM carrier appealed that decision to the Circuit Court for Shelby County and renewed its summary judgment motion. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the UM carrier, based on the one-year statute of limitations. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Appellate Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson reversed the circuit court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the court, the circuit court erred in holding that the one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims applied to the plaintiff’s case. Instead, the six-year statute of limitations for contract actions should have been applied because the plaintiff was attempting to enforce a contract of insurance against the carrier, rather than hold it liable for an act of negligence. The plaintiff’s claim against the UM carrier having been filed well within that time period – and, importantly, his personal injury action against the allegedly negligent driver having been timely filed as well –  his action against the UM carrier should not have been dismissed.

The court did not reach the UM carrier’s argument that, even if the plaintiff’s case was timely, the carrier was prejudiced by the delay in serving it with process. According to the court, that issue was never raised in the trial court and, therefore, was not to be entertained on appeal.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Knoxville Injury Attorney

Receiving fair compensation from one’s uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance company is often much more difficult than a person hurt in a car accident believes it will be. To talk to an experienced Knoxville uninsured motorist accident attorney about your case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., today at 865-524-5657. We will be glad to schedule a complimentary case evaluation of your east Tennessee car accident case so that you can fully understand your legal rights.

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