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Tennessee Statute of Limitations barred recovery in government case

Small Wooden Bridge in Forest

There’s an old riddle that asks, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” We may never know the answer to that question, but it seems that, if a tree located on state property falls onto a car passing over a bridge, there is a good chance that the state’s high court will eventually hear about it, especially if there is any question as to whether the injured person’s lawsuit was promptly filed.

As we’ve mentioned before, the statute of limitations is important in any lawsuit, but some cases have other time limitations and procedural requirements that must also be complied with. In cases involving governmental entities, the timing can be especially tricky.

Proceedings in the Division of Claims

In the case of Moreno v. City of Clarksville, the plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in late 2009. The accident occurred when a tree, which was located on property owned by the State of Tennessee, fell on his car as he proceeded across a bridge. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff was seriously injured. In 2010, the plaintiff filed a “notice of claim” with the Division of Claims Administration. In 2011, the claim was transferred to the Tennessee Claims Commission, and the plaintiff filed the requisite complaint.

Some 16 months later, the State filed an amended answer in which it alleged, for the first time, that the defendant City of Clarksville’s comparative fault contributed to the accident because the city’s water run-off eroded the ground around the tree in question.

Suit in Circuit Court

The plaintiff then filed suit against the city in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, asserting a claim of negligence against it. The court dismissed the case, saying it violated the Tennessee Statute of Limitations. The Court of Appeals for the Middle Section of Tennessee reversed, and the city appealed to the state’s highest court.

Decision of the State Supreme Court

Upon consideration, the court reversed the intermediate appellate court’s decision and granted the city’s motion to dismiss. The court began by acknowledging that, generally, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Tennessee is one year.

The court then considered whether the plaintiff’s suit against the city – which was clearly not filed within one year – met any exception to the general rule. It found that neither Tennessee Code Ann. § 20-1-119 nor Tennessee Code Ann. § 9-8-402(b) operated to excuse the untimeliness of the plaintiff’s complaint.

According to the court, there was no language in the Claims Commission Act expressing an intent to toll the statute of limitations in Governmental Tort Liability Act cases. The court likewise found no merit to the plaintiff’s argument that the Tennessee comparative fault statute allowed him an additional 90 days in which to file suit, noting that the appellate court had been in error in holding that the plaintiff’s notice of claim was his “original complaint.”

To Speak to an Attorney About Your Case

Since the statute of limitations bars recovery if the plaintiff does not file suit in a timely fashion, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible after an accident. The Bowling Green, Kentucky, law firm of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley handles car accident and other injury cases in Tennessee and Kentucky. To schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable personal injury and wrongful death attorney, call us at 270-781-6500.

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