Where defendant received a citation for violating a Tennessee municipal ordinance in a car accident, the one-year statute of limitations applied. The limitations period was not extended to two years under Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(2) because the municipal code violation was not a criminal charge or criminal prosecution.
In Peterson v. Carey, No. E2022-01656-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2023), plaintiff was injured when he was in a car accident while riding as a passenger in defendant’s vehicle. After the accident, defendant received a citation for violating a municipal code, which carried a maximum fine of $50.
Plaintiff filed this action more than one year after the date of the accident, and after an initial appeal and remand, the trial court considered plaintiff’s argument that the statute of limitations was extended to two years under Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(2). The trial court ruled that the two-year extension did not apply here because the code violation was civil in nature rather than criminal, and it therefore granted summary judgment to defendant. On appeal, this ruling was affirmed.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(2) provides for a two-year statute of limitations in personal injury actions where “criminal charges are brought against any person alleged to have caused or contributed to the injury,” or when “criminal prosecution [is] commenced” regarding the allegedly tortious action within one year. Subsection (a)(3) of this statute provides that it is to be “strictly construed.”
The issue here was whether the municipal code violation issued to defendant in this case would allow plaintiff to take advantage of the two-year statute of limitations. The Court noted that it had addressed this question at length in Glover v. Duckhorn, No. W2022-00697-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 2, 2023), and it accordingly quoted extensively from that opinion. Ultimately, the Court ruled that a municipal code violation was not a criminal charge or criminal prosecution:
In this case, …Defendant was cited for a municipal ordinance violation that merely carried a civil fine. …[The code violation] “shall be punished by a penalty of not less than $10.00 or more than $50.00.” There is no evidence in the record that criminal charges were brought against defendant due to the accident or that the accident was “the subject of a criminal prosecution” as anticipated by section 28-3-104(a)(2). As such, this case does not fit into limited exception provided in section 28-3-104(a)(2), and the trial court did not err in applying the one-year statute of limitations set forth in section 28-3-104(a)(1) and granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant.
Summary judgment for defendant was therefore affirmed.
This case is a reminder that plaintiffs should be cautious when relying on § 28-3-104(a)(2)’s longer two-year statute of limitations, as this is the second case holding that a municipal code violation will not meet the criteria of this statute.
This opinion was released three months after the case was assigned on briefs.
Note to any non-lawyer who comes across this blog post: The determination of the deadline for filing a lawsuit is complicated. There are general rules, but there are exceptions to those general rules that can increase or decrease the amount of time available to file a lawsuit against a person or entity that caused a personal injury or wrongful death.
You are urged not to try to figure this out on your own. If your injury or loss is serious enough that you are thinking about filing a lawsuit against the person or entity you believe to be responsible for it, call an experienced personal injury lawyer for help on determining your rights, including when the deadline for legal action expires.