When a plaintiff files a auto or other personal injury lawsuit, he may not be aware of all the potential defendants that should be named. Fairly often, a plaintiff may seek leave to amend his complaint and add a defendant even after the statute of limitations on the underlying claim has passed, usually citing the discovery rule as justification for this allowance. In a recent negligence case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals explored some of the limits on such allowances.
In Smith v. Hauck, No. M2014-01383-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 25, 2015), plaintiffs were in a car struck from behind by a vehicle driven by defendant on an interstate exit ramp. The accident occurred on June 25, 2012, and at the time there was no indication that defendant was driving in the course of his employment—i.e., neither defendant nor the police report mentioned this fact, and he was driving his personal car with no employer insignia. Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit on June 7, 2013, within the one-year statute of limitations, which defendant answered on August 26, 2013. Defendant’s answer did not state or allude to the fact that he was driving on employer business at the time of the accident. Four days later, plaintiffs served interrogatories and requests for production of documents on defendant. These discovery requests included items seeking information related to defendant’s employer and his purpose for driving at the time of the accident. When defendant’s responses were six weeks past due, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel on November 8, 2013. Defendant responded to the interrogatories on December 4, 2013, and for the first time in those responses stated that “he was traveling to St. Thomas Hospital to participate in surgery as part of his employment with St. Jude Medical.” On the same day they received these responses, plaintiffs filed a motion to add St. Jude Medical as a defendant. The motion was granted and plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on December 20, 2013. St. Jude then filed a motion to dismiss based on the one-year statute of limitations, which the trial court granted, but the Court of Appeals overturned.