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Tennessee Court of Appeals Agrees that Personal Injury Suit Against the Employer of an Allegedly Negligent Trucker Was Saved Under the Savings Statutes

There are many steps involved in the litigation of a Knoxville truck accident case. While the need for an initial investigation (such as the interviewing of witnesses, the gathering of records, and the like) and the filing of a formal complaint in the appropriate court are essential, these steps represent only the beginning of what can be a very lengthy process.

Securing service of process and answering discovery requests is also required, and many cases require the plaintiff to respond to various motions, including summary judgment motions seeking dismissal of the case. Of course, each case is unique and must be addressed on its own merits.

In some cases, a plaintiff may even have to go through the appellate process before having an opportunity to have his or her day in court. In a recent case, the plaintiff actually had his case go up on appeal twice during the pre-trial phase of the litigation.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a long-distance truck driver who sought to assert a personal injury action against a second truck driver, whom the plaintiff alleged caused a crash in which the plaintiff was injured in 2011. The plaintiff’s wife joined in the action to assert a claim for loss of consortium. The second truck driver’s employer was also named in the suit as a defendant, with the plaintiffs seeking to hold the employer vicariously liable for the second truck driver’s alleged negligence. Although process was issued for both defendants when the plaintiffs’ suit was filed in 2012, only the defendant employer was served, as the plaintiffs were unable to obtain service of process on the second truck driver.

In 2013, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claim against the second truck driver but continued their action against the defendant employer. In 2015, the defendant employer filed a motion for summary judgment. This motion was granted by the trial court, but that decision was reversed on appeal. After the case was remanded following the appeal, the plaintiffs filed a voluntary dismissal of their case, which they had filed in the Henderson County Circuit Court, and commenced a new cause of action against the defendant employer in the Wilson County Circuit Court. The defendant employer again sought summary judgment, this time on the grounds that it could no longer be held vicariously liable for the second truck driver’s actions because the plaintiffs cause of action against him was barred before the plaintiffs filed their new action against the defendant employer. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant employer appealed.

The Reviewing Court’s Decision

The Tennessee Court of Appeals framed the issue as “whether a common-law exception to the vicarious liability doctrine prevents a plaintiff from benefiting from the savings statute.” Answering the question in the negative, the court held that, in the particular case at bar, the plaintiffs’ case was “saved” because 1) the plaintiffs’ first action was instituted before their right of action against the second truck (i.e., the employee) was extinguished by operation of law and 2) the plaintiffs’ second complaint was timely filed pursuant to the Tennessee savings statute codified at Tennessee Code Annotated ยง 28-1-105.

In so holding, the court noted that a recent case upon which the defendant relied had held that a plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim against an employer such as the defendant herein failed in situations in which the plaintiff’s claim against the agent was procedurally barred by operation of law before the plaintiff asserted his or her vicarious liability action. Such was not the case here, in the court’s view, as the plaintiffs had already sued the defendant employer when their claim against the second truck driver had been extinguished. Although the defendant employer argued that the holding of the case upon which it relied should be extended to a situation involving a non-suit of a vicarious liability claim and a refiling under the saving statute, the reviewing court declined to so hold.

Have Questions for an East Tennessee Attorney?

Negligent truck drivers and trucking outfits can cause serious personal injury and/or wrongful death to other motorists, pedestrians, and passengers. When this happens, the injured parties (and the families of those who perish) have a right to seek fair compensation in a court of law. To talk to an experienced Knoxville truck accident attorney about your case, call the Hartsoe Law Firm today at 865-524-5657. We handle cases throughout east Tennessee, including Maryville, Sevierville, Oak Ridge, and the Smoky Mountains.

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