Tennessee Savings Statute Fails to Preserve Claims Not Asserted in Original Filing

In State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co. v. Blondin, No. M2014-01756-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2016), the central issue was whether plaintiff had asserted its claim for personal injury damages in a timely fashion. State Farm was subrogated to its insured’s right to recovery following an accident between the insured and defendant’s daughter. The accident occurred on July 7, 2009, and State Farm filed a civil warrant in general sessions court on May 17, 2010. The warrant stated that State Farm brought the action “to recover damages to the property of plaintiff’s insured, Jenny R. Rone, caused by the negligence of the defendant. The date of loss was July 7, 2009. The amount of damages totaled $7,371.22…”

On July 15, 2010, more than one year after the accident, State Farm filed a motion to amend the warrant to say: “Suit to recover damages to the property and person of plaintiff’s insured…. The amount of damages totaled $24, 999.99…” The general sessions judge denied the motion to amend, writing on the motion that it was “denied as to personal injuries.  Statute of limitations has expired.”

Following the denial of the motion to amend, State Farm filed a motion to remove the case to circuit court, which was also denied. State Farm then voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice. State Farm refiled in general sessions court within the one-year allowed by the savings statute, but this time the warrant stated that it was “to recover damages to the person and/or property of plaintiff’s insured.” This warrant listed damages at $7,371.22. Defendant moved to dismiss this action based on timeliness, and the general sessions court dismissed the case. State Farm appealed to the circuit court and also filed an Amended Complaint seeking $44,124.57 in damages. Defendant again moved to dismiss, which was denied, and ultimately State Farm got a judgment for $20,575, which was reduced by 20% because the court found the insured to be 20% at fault. Defendant then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which ultimately dismissed the personal injury portion of State Farm’s claim.

In finding that the personal injury claim was time barred, the Court stated:

State Farm did not assert a cause of action for personal injuries in the first warrant it filed in the general sessions court; the claim was not made until after the applicable statute of limitations, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104, had run. The general sessions court properly denied the attempt to add the cause of action to recover for personal injuries as barred by the statute of limitations. The later action of State Farm in voluntarily dismissing and subsequently refiling the action could not serve to expand the subject matter jurisdiction of the general sessions court to hear a claim barred by the statute of limitations.

Further, the Court rejected State Farm’s argument that it “was entitled to amend its warrant because pleadings in general sessions court are not required to be in writing.” The Court held that State Farm’s first warrant stated claims only for property damage and that only those claims were thus preserved by the savings statute.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the 20% allocation of fault to the insured, determining that the evidence did not preponderate against such a finding. Accordingly, the Court vacated the personal injury award and held that State Farm should receive the $7,220 in property damages minus 20% for the fault of the insured.

This case presents a cautionary tale for plaintiffs’ attorneys—no matter which court you are filing in, be sure to state claims for all damages you seek to recover. Here, the initial warrant clearly asked for property damages and accordingly limited the dollar amount sought. After the statute of limitations for personal injury had passed, plaintiff attempted to add that claim and up the dollar amount correspondingly. Since this claim had not been made until after the one-year limitations period had passed, the claim was time barred and plaintiffs were not able to recover money that was clearly related to defendant’s negligence.

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