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Tennessee Court of Appeals Denies Summary Judgment to Defendant in Car Accident Case in Which Complaint Was Not Filed Until More Than 18 Months After Crash

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.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appeals court case, the plaintiff and the defendant were motorists who were involved in a traffic accident in Roane County, Tennessee, in September 2017. In April 2019, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in Davidson County Circuit Court; the case was removed to federal district court and then remanded to circuit court. It was later transferred, by an agreement of the parties concerning proper venue, to Roane County Circuit Court.

The defendant filed an answer in which he pled the statute of limitations as a defense. Thereafter, he filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the plaintiff’s case against him on the basis that it was time-barred. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Opinion

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville affirmed the lower court’s order denying summary judgment to the defendant. In so holding, the appeals court agreed with the lower tribunal that, under the particular circumstances presented in the case at bar, the plaintiff’s cause of action was not time-barred because of an exception to the one-year statute of limitations that would normally have applied. More specifically, under Tennessee Code Annotated ยง 28-3-104(a)(1), the statute of limitations was extended to two years when criminal charges were brought against a person who allegedly caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. Under this exception, the charges must have been brought by a law enforcement officer, a district attorney general, or a grand jury, and the suit in which the extension was to apply was brought by a person injured by the defendant in the criminal case.

Here, the investigating officer (a state trooper) issued a traffic citation to the defendant, citing him for failure to exercise due care. The defendant did not contest the citation and paid a fine to the court in which the citation was issued. Although the defendant argued that the citation did not constitute a “criminal charge or prosecution” within the meaning of the statute, the appellate court disagreed, ruling that, under the exception to Tennessee’s general rule for the statute of limitations in a car accident case, the plaintiff’s claim was timely filed.

Call an East Tennessee Car Accident Lawyer

It is very important to note that the case discussed above hinged on the particular facts involved in the dispute at hand. Any extension of the statute of limitations by a Tennessee court is extremely rare and certainly should not be counted on in a given case. If you or someone in your family has been hurt in a car accident, please do not wait until the “last minute” to seek legal advice. By doing so, you risk having your case dismissed on grounds that it is untimely filed. For an appointment to discuss your situation, call the Hartsoe Law Firm today at 865-524-5657 or use the contact form on this website.

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