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What Is the Deadline for Filing a Lawsuit Following a Car Accident?

If you are seriously injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, you will understandably want to hold the responsible parties liable. In some cases it may not be immediately apparent who all of these responsible parties are, which can present difficulties when filing a personal injury lawsuit. Tennessee law imposes strict time limits on filing personal injury claims, which can work against a victim even when they attempt to follow the rules.

Defendants Dismissed Due to Late Filing

For example, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently dismissed several defendants in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a August 2012 car accident. The plaintiff was driving his vehicle in Wilson County, Tennessee, when it collided with a tractor trailer. The plaintiff lost one of his arms as a result of the accident, which he blamed on the reckless driving of the tractor trailer driver.

The plaintiff’s subsequent personal injury lawsuit named the driver and owner of the trailer as defendants. The plaintiff initially believed the trailer owner was also the driver’s employer. Under Tennessee law, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent act of an employee committed during the course of employment. But here, the trailer owner denied the driver was its employee.

The plaintiff later filed an amended complaint identifying several new defendants, including the companies that actually employed the driver. The court received the plaintiff’s new complaint in March 2014, about one year and seven months after the accident. This was a problem, because Tennessee law imposes a one-year statute of limitations on any personal injury claim. In other words, since the accident occurred in August 2012, the plaintiff was required to identify all defendants no later than August 2013.

The trial judge accordingly dismissed the new defendants from the case. The plaintiff appealed, but the Court of Appeals held dismissal was appropriate. The appeals court explained the plaintiff had a duty to serve the new defendants before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations or within 120 days of filing his lawsuit. He did neither. The plaintiff attempted to claim there was “fraudulent concealment”—that is, the defendants somehow prevented him from discovering their identities until it was too late—but the Court of Appeals said that argument was “without merit.”

Get Legal Help Following a Car Accident

As the case above illustrates, personal injury litigation often deals with technical questions of law which can defeat a claim before it even gets to trial. That is why you should never go into court without help from an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer. It is equally important you speak with an attorney as soon as possible following an accident, because the clock on the statute of limitations starts on the day you are injured. If you have been in an accident and need to speak with someone right away, contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today.

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