Subject Matter: TN SC Opinion - Dismissal/Comparative Fault SOL
Greetings again and attached is a recent opinion from the TN Supreme Court regarding the applicability of T.C.A. Â§ 20-1-119 to a defendant who has been previously dismissed from a lawsuit. Briefly, T.C.A. Â§ 20-1-119 provides an exception to the applicable statute of limitations in TN (1 year for personal injury) and allows a 90-day window within which a Plaintiff may amend her complaint to add a party after a timely sued defendant has alleged comparative fault in that partyâ€™s answer or amended answer.
In the present case, an automobile accident, a car driven by a 20 year-old fraternity member struck Plaintiffsâ€™ vehicle, causing injuries. The fraternity chapter answered the complaint, denying liability and did not allege comparative fault against any of its members. Thus, when the Plaintiffs amended their complaint over a year after the accident to allege the fault of 4 additional fraternity members, the trial court granted Defendantsâ€™ motion to dismiss due to the running of the 1-year statute of limitations. No final order, however, was entered pursuant to Rule 54.02 dismissing those defendants. Later that same week, two of the original defendants to the suit filed an amended answer explicitly alleging fault (for the first time) against the fraternity members who had been dismissed. Since the trial court had already dismissed the fraternity members (which ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals), the issue before the Supreme Court was whether a previously-named defendant whose dismissal order had not been made final pursuant to Rule 54 would be considered a â€œnon-partyâ€ who Plaintiff could then add back to the lawsuit under T.C.A. Â§ 20-1-119 by the filing of an amended Complaint. The Supreme Court answered yes, holding that a named defendant ceases to be a â€œparty,â€ for purposes of Â§ 20-1-119, when the trial Court issues an order dismissing that defendant â€“ whether the order is final or interlocutory in nature.
The Court reasoned that the purpose of Â§ 20-1-119 is to allow plaintiffs an opportunity to bring persons into a lawsuit when a timely sued defendant has alleged the third-partyâ€™s comparative fault and that this ruling further supported the purposes of the statute. This holding is important to note the Supreme Courtâ€™s expansive interpretation of Â§ 20-1-119 and to be aware that a defendant, previously dismissed from a suit, may be brought back in under the statute whether the dismissal order has been made final or not pursuant to Rule 54. We will keep you updated on any further developments in this regard. Again, enjoy the weekend and keep cool! ~Rebecca
Firm/Company: The Adelman Firm
Document Date: April 6, 2020
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