Tennessee Court rules that plaintiff in car accident lawsuit cannot rely on Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to toll time

by Mandy Hicks

If you follow this blog regularly, you have probably read several posts regarding situations in which a car accident lawsuit or other type of complaint was dismissed due to the plaintiff’s failure to file a claim within the statute of limitations. It is a common problem, and one of the reasons we emphasize contacting an attorney as soon as possible when you have been injured.

Filing a timely claim in a court of competent jurisdiction is only the first step in the process of filing a lawsuit. The complaint also has to be served upon the defendant according to the applicable rules of civil procedure.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Spratt v. Bishop, the plaintiff filed suit seeking to recover damages resulting from a motor vehicle crash that occurred on August 25, 2011, in Humphreys County, Tennessee. The plaintiff’s complaint was filed on August 22, 2012, just three days shy of Tennessee‘s one-year statute of limitations for such claims. The Circuit Court Clerk promptly issued a summons and delivered it to the sheriff’s office for service of process.

The summons was returned unserved with a notation indicating that the defendant was in the military and was currently deployed to Afghanistan. In December 2012, the defendant’s attorney notified the plaintiff that there were two men with the same name living at the address at which service was attempted: the defendant (who was not in the military) and his son (who was, in fact, serving overseas at that time).

Almost nine months later, in August 2013, the plaintiff filed an alias summons, which was served on the defendant four days later. The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit on the grounds that her failure to reissue the original summons within one year, as required by Tenn. R. Civ. Proc. 3, was fatal to her claim. The trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s case. According to the court, the dispositive issue on appeal was whether the plaintiff could rely upon the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. § 3936(a), to toll the one-year time period during which new process should have otherwise been issued under Rule 3. Based on prior case law to the effect that the Act was applicable only to actual servicemembers rather than relatives, such as the defendant herein, the court found that the trial court had correctly concluded that the plaintiff’s reliance upon the Act to toll the period for issuing new process was misplaced.

To Talk to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney About Your Case

As this case demonstrates, time is of the essence when it comes to litigation arising from motor vehicle accidents. To schedule a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call the knowledgeable Kentucky and Tennessee truck accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP, at (270) 781-6500. Our offices are located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and we represent clients throughout middle Tennessee and south-central Kentucky, including the I-65 corridor. We accept many cases on a contingency fee basis, so legal fees are collected if and when your case is successfully resolved rather than upfront.

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