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Lawsuit filed in Tennessee General Sessions Court for Property Damage Cannot be Amended to Add Personal Injury Damages After Statute of Limitations Has Run

Posted on Apr 17 2016 3:49PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent case dealt with an attempted amendment to add personal injury damages after the initial suit only requested property damages.  The case was State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Robert Blondin, No. M2014-01756-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 1019609 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2016).  This case was about a July 7, 2009 automobile accident that occurred where an individual sustained personal injury and property damages.  State Farm Insurance filed a Civil Warrant on May 17, 2010 to recover amounts paid to their own insured under the uninsured motorist provision of their policy.  State Farm sued the allegedly at fault driver for property damage only as outlined in their initial Civil Warrant.  On July 15, 2010, after the 1 year statute of limitations for personal injury, State Farm filed a motion to amend the Civil Warrant to assert personal injury damages as well.  The General Sessions Court denied the motion due to the fact the statute of limitations had expired.  State Farm then appealed to the Circuit Court where this request was also denied and then the case was set for trial.  State Farm next voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice prior to trial. 

 

After the dismissal without prejudice, State Farm refiled the action in General Sessions Court on January 31, 2012.  This time, State Farm’s Civil Warrant was for personal injury and property damages.  Ultimately, the Circuit Court, on appeal from General Sessions Court, went forward with the trial and allowed the case to be tried seeking both personal injury and property damages.  The Court awarded personal injury and property damages at the trial.  This case was then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals over the statute of limitations issue. 

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial Circuit Court.  The Court found that “the statute of limitations operated to deprive the General Sessions Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim for personal injuries”.  State Farm at p. 3.  Further, the appeals and voluntary dismissal by State Farm did not operate to revive or extend the statute of limitations because the statute of limitations was already extinguished. State Farm at p. 3.  The Court also discussed State Farm’s argument that the saving statute under T.C.A. § 28-1-105 somehow permitted State Farm to re-file the previous action and rely upon the prior filing of the lawsuit to extend statute of limitation.  The Court noted that the saving statute did permit State Farm to re-file the cause of action but it did not resurrect the previously barred cause of action for personal injury.

 

As a result, this case shows how important it is that when a lawsuit is initially filed in General Sessions Court, all applicable causes of action should be brought at that time.  If the statute of limitations for a cause of action passed, when you are in General Sessions Court, you may not be able to amend to add new cause of action outside of the statute of limitations.  Interestingly, the plaintiff, State Farm, tried to rely upon Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.01 and 15.03 which could save a plaintiff if the case was originally filed in Circuit or Chancery Court.  These rules provide as follows: 

 

15.01:  A party may amend the party's pleadings once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served or, if the pleading is one to which no responsive pleading is permitted and the action has not been set for trial, the party may so amend it at any time within fifteen (15) days after it is served. Otherwise a party may amend the party's pleadings only by written consent of the adverse party or by leave of court; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires. For amendments adding defendants pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §20-1-119, however, written consent of the adverse party or leave of court is not required. A party shall plead in response to an amended pleading within the time remaining for response to the original pleading or within fifteen (15) days after service of the amended pleading, whichever period may be longer, unless the court otherwise orders.

 

15.03:  Whenever the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleadings arose out of the conduct, transaction or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading, the amendment relates back to the date of the original pleading. An amendment changing the party or the naming of the party by or against whom a claim is asserted relates back if the foregoing provision is satisfied and if, within the period provided by law for commencing an action or within 120 days after commencement of the action, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the party.

 

However, due to the fact this case was originally filed in General Sessions court, these rules do not apply.  The fact it was appealed to the Circuit Court did not somehow retroactively apply these rules of civil procedure to allow the plaintiff to save their previously time barred cause of action.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.


TAGS: Damages, Defenses, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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