Car accident statute of limitations held to began on date of accident.

Where a car accident plaintiff filed suit against the other driver’s insurance company within the statute of limitations, but failed to add the other driver as a party until two days after the statute of limitations had run, dismissal was affirmed. In Haywood v. Trexis Insurance Corp., No. W2020-00418-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 12, 2021), plaintiff was in a car accident with defendant driver on October 9, 2018. Plaintiff filed a civil warrant in general sessions court against defendant insurance company, who insured defendant driver, in July 2019. On October 11, 2019, plaintiff added defendant driver through an amended civil warrant. Defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss, arguing that the insurance company “was an improper party to the action because Tennessee is not a ‘direct action’ state,” and that “the statute of limitations for personal injury actions barred [plaintiff’s] suit against [the driver].” The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, where the case was dismissed again. On appeal, dismissal was affirmed.

On appeal, plaintiff, who was proceeding pro se, first argued that her claim against defendant driver was not time-barred due to the discovery rule. Plaintiff claimed that although the accident occurred on October 9, 2018, she did not realize she was injured until the next day. The Court rejected this argument, explaining that personal injury cases are subject to a one-year statute of limitations, and that under Tennessee law, the first day of such a time period is excluded while the last is included. (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 1-3-102). Because the accident occurred on October 9, 2018, the statute of limitations began to run on October 10, 2018 and expired on October 9, 2019, which is consistent with the premise in Tennessee law that “the last day to file a personal injury action in Tennessee is the anniversary date of the accident.” (internal citation omitted). Further, the discovery rule did not operate to toll the statute of limitations here, because while plaintiff “may not have noticed any physical effects from the accident until October 10, 2018, the accident placed her on notice that she may have suffered an injury as a result of [the driver’s] alleged wrongful conduct on October 9, 2018.”

Next, plaintiff argued that her claim against the driver should relate back to the date her claim against the insurance company was filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). The Court first pointed out that because this was a state case, the Tennessee Rules would apply, but even under those, plaintiff was not entitled to use the relation-back doctrine. The Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure are not applicable in general sessions court, which is where plaintiff filed her action, and only become appliable “upon a de novo appeal from general sessions court to circuit court.” In this case, plaintiff appealed to circuit court, but “she did not file a new complaint in the circuit court” and instead “relied on the amended civil warrant that she filed in the General Sessions Court in October 2019.” The Court explained that plaintiff had attempted to add defendant driver before the case was transferred to circuit court, so the Rules would not have applied at that time. The Court held that “[b]ecause [plaintiff] relied on the amended civil warrant filed with the General Sessions Court, rather than filing an amended pleading with the trial court, we conclude that Rule 15.03 is inapplicable and affirm the trial court’s dismissal of her action against [the driver].”

Dismissal was therefore affirmed.

This plaintiff was proceeding pro se, but this case is a reminder of the importance of paying close attention to statute of limitations dates. Here, just two days meant that plaintiff’s claim was time-barred.

NOTE: This opinion was released two months after oral arguments in this case.

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