New Emotional Distress Decision

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the three-year statute of limitation applies for emotional distess claims arising out of injury to property "inspired by fraud, malice or like motives."

The Trial Court and Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the claim for emotional injuries because the lawsuit was not  filed within one year.  The TSC reversed on this issue, holding that "[t]he gravamen of the Whaleys’ complaint is that the defendants’ actions injured their property, and the damages they sought for emotional distress were “damages aris[ing] wholly as a result of the injury  to plaintiffs’ property and not as a result of anything personally done to them.” In other words, the  Whaleys’ “claim” for damages for emotional distress was merely an element of their overall claim  for damages for the injury to their property and not a stand-alone cause of action. Consequently, the  three-year property tort statute of limitations applies, and the intermediate court erred in holding that the one-year personal injury statute of limitations barred the Whaleys’ claim for damages for emotional distress."  

Turning to another issue, the Court also held that "the Defendants’ violation of the Shelby County subdivision regulation does not warrant the application of the doctrine of negligence  per se."  The Court agreed with the Court of Appeals on this issue, and adopted this language from the opinion of the lower appellate court:  "these subdivision regulations were enacted largely for reasons related  to quality of life, among them, assuring adequate public facilities for  residents, minimizing pollution, providing for orderly layout and use  of land, protecting the value of land, preventing overcrowding, and  assuring effective traffic circulation. The harm alleged by the  Whaleys is not a harm the regulations were designed to prevent, but  rather, it is an accidental consequence of a [regulation] enacted to  prevent other harms to the community and its residents that could be  caused by the unregulated subdivision of land."

The case is Whaley v. Perkins, No. W2004-02058-SC-R11-CV  (Tenn.  July 14, 2006).  Read the opinion here.