Plaintiff Must Name “John Doe” if Other Driver in Car Accident Case is Unknown.

In order to bring a direct claim against a plaintiff’s uninsured motorist insurance carrier, the plaintiff must have filed his initial complaint against the uninsured motorist (or “John Doe” if unknown) within the one-year statute of limitations.

In Fults v. MetLife Auto & Home Insurance Agency, Inc., No. M2018-00647-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 7, 2019), plaintiff was injured in a hit-and-run car accident on November 16, 2015, and the other driver was never identified. Plaintiff filed suit, naming his uninsured motorist carrier as defendant, on July 14, 2017. Defendant moved for dismissal, arguing that plaintiff’s claim was barred “on the ground that the complaint did not name or contain allegations against a “John Doe” driver, that no summons had been issued against “John Doe”…, and that the statute of limitations…would prevent John Doe from being named as a defendant.” Plaintiff moved to amend the complaint and add John Doe, but the trial court denied the motion to amend and granted the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Claims for personal injuries sustained in car accidents are subject to the one-year statute of limitations found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a). Because the other driver here was unknown, Tennessee’s uninsured motorist statute also applied, which requires the plaintiff to “issue a John Doe warrant against the unknown owner or operator in order to come within the coverage of the owner’s uninsured motorist policy.” (Citing § 56-7-1206(b)). Here, plaintiff “did not file his initial complaint within one year of the date of the accident; moreover, he did not name “John Doe” as a defendant[.]” By the time plaintiff attempted to add John Doe, the one-year statute of limitations had run, and plaintiff was thus unable to comply with the statutory requirements.

Plaintiff argued that Bates v. Greene, a previous Court of Appeals opinion, should be read to mean that a case against an uninsured motorist carrier does not have to be filed within one-year, but the Court ruled that the Bates reasoning did not apply to this matter. (No. W2016-01868-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2017)). In Bates, the defendant was named in the original, timely suit, and when he was unable to be found, plaintiff then served her uninsured motorist insurance carrier as a defendant. The service on plaintiff’s insurance carrier occurred two years after the accident, but plaintiff’s suit naming the defendant driver had been filed within the one-year statute of limitations. In such a situation, the Court found that there was no statutory requirement “that a claim by an insured must be served upon an uninsured motorist carrier within one year from the date of a motor vehicle accident so long as the statute of limitations has not run against the uninsured motorist.” Because the plaintiff in this case did not file a claim against his uninsured motorist carrier or John Doe within one year, this reasoning did not apply.