T.C.A. Section 20-1-119 is one of the most important statutes for those of us who practice personal injury law in Tennessee, and the recent Mills v. Fulmarque opinion issued by the Tennessee Supreme Court has changed the way many people thought about this statute.
Subject to several important limitations, the purpose of section 20-1-119 is to provide plaintiffs with an opportunity to add additional defendants to a case in which comparative fault is an issue, notwithstanding the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Mills court held that section 20-1-119 provides a ninety-day window in which a plaintiff may name a new non-party as a defendant only if the defendant alleging comparative fault against the new non-party was sued within the statute of limitations applicable to the plaintiff’s cause of action.
The Tennessee Bar Association has published an article I wrote on the statute and the MIlls opinion as the cover story for the May 2012 edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal.
My thoughts about the impact of Mills are summarized in the conclusion to the article:
At the end of the day, Mills is not a catastrophic development in Tennessee tort law. Rather, it is just another decision that places a burden on plaintiff’s counsel to develop a strategy and employ tactics to attempt to avoid the risk of an empty chair at trial. The biggest hazard faced by plaintiffs occurs when the wrongdoers have a business or insurance coverage reason to collude with one another to create an empty chair.
I hope that this article will be a help to Tennessee lawyers who have questions with the statute. Tort lawyers will find additional guidance on the entire field of Tennessee comparative fault law in a book I wrote 15 years ago with Donald Capparella. John Wood was added as an additional author in a later edition. Tennessee Law of Comparative Fault is available for purchase from Thomson Reuters.