Appeals Court Reverses Dismissal in Tennessee Car Accident Case

by Mandy Hicks

Most of the time, the plaintiff in a lawsuit arising from a motor vehicle accident is either a person who has been hurt in a crash or a family who has lost a loved one in a fatal traffic accident.

Sometimes, however, the plaintiff is an insurance company that has paid out benefits to an insured – typically for property damage or medical benefits – and is seeking repayment from the person whose negligence caused the crash.

Both individuals and insurance companies must follow procedural rules, including filing a claim within the statute of limitations and pursing resolution of the lawsuit in a timely fashion.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in Hickman County, Tennessee, the plaintiff was an insurance company that filed a lawsuit against the defendants, a father and son, seeking to recover (as subrogee) money it had paid out to its insured as a result of the defendants’ alleged negligence in causing an automobile accident. The case was filed in May 2014.

In October 2016, the trial court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendants, finding that more than 370 days had elapsed since the defendants had filed their answers and that the plaintiff had effectively admitted the defendants’ affirmative defenses by failing to respond to them. The plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the dismissal or, alternatively, to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02. The trial court denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The court first noted that an appellate court is to review a trial court’s decision to dismiss an action for failure to prosecute under an abuse of discretion standard. While trial courts possess authority to control their dockets and proceedings, the dismissal of an action is considered to be an extreme sanction that undermines the judiciary’s goal of deciding cases on the merits of the case.

The court then noted that the plaintiff’s response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss stated that the plaintiff had sent discovery requests to the defendants prior to receiving the motion to dismiss. Thus, the factual basis for the trial court’s decision was not supported by sufficient evidence and had to be reversed. The court also found an error with regard to the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the defendants’ affirmative defenses amounted to a failure to prosecute. Instead, under Tennessee law, no responsive pleading was required, and the averments were deemed denied or avoided.

If You Have Been Hurt in a Tennessee Automobile Accident

Those who have been involved in a motor vehicle collision should act promptly to protect their legal rights, or they run the risk of forfeiting the compensation to which they would otherwise be entitled. In addition to complying with procedural rules concerning timeliness, getting an early start on a vehicular accident case allows more time for a thorough investigation and can increase the chances of a favorable verdict or settlement later. To schedule a free consultation with a knowledgeable Tennessee car accident lawyer, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley today at 270-781-6500. We serve clients throughout both Tennessee and Kentucky from our offices in Bowling Green.

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