Tennessee personal injury case highlights importance of timeliness of filing lawsuit

by Mandy Hicks

Compared to some states, Tennessee has a very short statute of limitations for the filing of claims involving personal injury: just one year. If a claim is not filed within this time period, the plaintiff’s case will be dismissed regardless of its merits.

In addition to filing his or her claim in court within one year of the accident, the plaintiff must also serve a summons and a copy of the complaint on the defendant within a certain time period.

A recent Tennessee personal injury case illustrates the difficulties that a claimant faced when his opponent not only moved out of the county but also filed for bankruptcy protection.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided Tennessee personal injury appellate court case, the plaintiff and the defendant were involved in a car accident in February 2014. Less than three months later, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant in the Circuit Court for Davidson County. A copy of the complaint was served on the plaintiff’s uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance carrier, but the defendant motorist was not served until September 2015. (Notably, the defendant had filed for federal bankruptcy protection about three weeks after the car accident, although the plaintiff did not learn of this fact until after he had filed suit.) The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint on the ground that the service of process on the defendant was untimely.

The Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville vacated the circuit court’s order and remanded the case with instructions to reinstate the plaintiff’s complaint. According to the court, the issue was whether the plaintiff had obtained a re-issuance of an alias summons for the defendant before the statute of limitations ran. In considering the issue, the court reviewed both the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and the federal bankruptcy statutes.

Under normal circumstances, a plaintiff can only rely on an original filing date if he or she obtains issuance of new process via an alias summons within one year of the date that the original summons was issued. The court noted that an alias summons was not sought by the plaintiff until more than a year after the first original summons was issued.

However, due to the defendant’s bankruptcy, the court noted that there was an automatic stay in place for 202 days, and the plaintiff was enjoined from the issuance of process during that time. Thus, while the plaintiff was required to – and did – comply with the usual one-year statute of limitations deadline for the filing of the complaint, the 202 days in which the bankruptcy injunction was in place were not to be counted in determining the date by which he was required to obtain an alias summons. When properly calculated, the plaintiff’s service of an alias summons was timely.

Do You Need Legal Advice Concerning an Automobile Accident?

As experienced car accident attorneys, the litigation team at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP, can guide you through the various procedural hurdles necessary to pursue fair compensation after a motor vehicle collision in Tennessee or Kentucky. To schedule a free consultation in our Bowling Green offices, call 270-781-6500 or use the contact form on this website.

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