You Only Get One Shot with Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 – The 90-day Extension is Based on the Date of Filing of the First Answer

Tennessee has a unique statute that allows a plaintiff to sue a nonparty tortfeasor alleged to have fault in a negligence case after the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations.  the statute is triggered if a defendant sued within the original statute of limitations period blames the nonparty and the plaintiff either files an amendment to the pending lawsuit or files a separate lawsuit within 90 days of the filing date of the defendant’s answer raising an allegation of the nonparty’s fault.  The statute is Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119.

This statute has been the subject of many appeals in Tennessee, and was most recently addressed by the Middle Section of our Court of Appeals in Morris v. Phillips

In this case, the Plaintiff was injured in a multi-vehicle wreck in August of 2010.  Plaintiff sued the Driver and the Record Owner of the vehicle.  In December 2011, Record Owner filed an answer alleging the fault of three Other Tortfeasors.  In July 2012, Driver filed an answer also alleging the fault of the same three Other Tortfeasors.  Plaintiff filed an amended complaint bringing the Other Tortfeasors into the lawsuit in August 2012, which was more than 90 days after the first answer alleging the fault of Other Tortfeasors was filed.  One of the Other Tortfeasors filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired because of Plaintiff’s failure to file an amended complaint within 90 days of the first allegation of fault against Other Tortfeasors.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but granted interlocutory appeal.  The Court of Appeals reversed and reiterated that the Plaintiff has 90 days from the first allegation of fault in an answer.  Each new answer from another party alleging a nonparty’s fault does not start the 90 day extension over again.

This result makes perfect sense and is consistent with the plain language of the statute.  For the life of me I don’t see what the plaintiff’s lawyer was thinking in this case.

For other Tennessee cases interpreting TCA Section 20-1-119 click on the link.  For a more detailer explanation and understanding of the law of nonparty liability read Chapter 5 of our book, Tennessee Law of Comparative Fault.  The book is available for purchase by clicking on the link.