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Understanding Tennessee’s One-Year Deadline to File Personal Injury Lawsuits


When you are injured in a car accident, the clock starts ticking right away on your time to bring a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. To be more precise, you normally have one year from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit and serve the defendant. While a court may grant an extension in certain situations, you cannot assume you will get any additional time.

Court Rejects Car Accident Victims’ Lawsuit Due to Late Service

A recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Webster v. Isaacs, illustrates what we are talking about. This case involves an auto accident that took place in Nashville on November 9, 2015. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant on November 3, 2016, just a few days short of the one-year deadline. That same day, the plaintiffs attempted to serve the defendant.

But on November 14, after the statute of limitations had expired, the summons was returned to the plaintiff because the defendant could not be found. The defendant was not served with the lawsuit until January 2018. At that point, the defendant moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to meet the one-year deadline required by state law.

The trial judge initially denied the defense motion and the parties proceeded to litigate a number of pre-trial matters. The plaintiffs moved for “enlargement,” basically a retroactive extension of the deadline to serve the defendant with the lawsuit. In response, the defendant again moved to dismiss the case.

This time, the judge agreed with the defendant. The court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for enlargement and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff then appealed.

The Court of Appeals, however, agreed with the defendant and the trial judge. When the initial service was returned, the appeals court explained, the plaintiffs should have followed up with the process server or the local court clerk to determine what steps they needed to take to properly serve the defendant. Indeed, they had “almost 10 months to do so,” dating back to the accident.

The appeals court further rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the defendant had “waived the defense of service of process by participating in the litigation after raising the defense.” In fact, the defendant expressly reserved his right to raise the issue when he initially responded to the lawsuit. And since it was undisputed the plaintiffs did not serve the defendant within one year–or present a valid excuse for their tardiness–the trial court was correct to grant summary judgment to the defendant.

Contact a Tennessee Car Accident Attorney Today

Immediately following an accident, the last thing you probably want to think about is filing a lawsuit. But time is not on your side when it comes to holding a negligent driver accountable. And the sooner you meet with a qualified Nashville car accident lawyer, the sooner they can get to work for you in conducting a full and complete investigation of what happened and taking appropriate legal action on your behalf. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, if you have been injured in an accident and need to speak with an attorney today.




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