Tennessee Court Holds That Plaintiff Can Add Comparative Fault Defendants To Claim

Sometimes when a plaintiff is injured as a result of another’s actions, or a dangerous condition, he or she will not know precisely which defendants may need to be sued. For example, a plaintiff may sue a business for a cracked sidewalk, but might not know whether the business owns the property or if there is another landlord who should be included.

One way to discover additional defendants is through comparative fault. Where a defendant is sued and that defendant believes there are other parties who should be considered as being at fault for the accident, they may file a notice of comparative fault, designating other individuals as entities as partially responsible for the accident. This works to hopefully limit the defendant’s own liability, but also alerts the plaintiff to the possibility of other potential defendants.

In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court looked at when a second defendant who is identified after a notice of comparative fault can properly be sued and how long a plaintiff has to bring a claim. In that case, M.S. sued Publix grocery stores after she fell at her local grocery store while taking her grocery purchases to her car. According to the lawsuit, there was a loose mat outside the elevator that M.S. was using and she tripped on the mat, causing her injuries. M.S. was aware that Publix had a landlord and sued the landlord, known as the Hill Defendants, as well. At the time of her initial suit, Publix filed a notice of comparative fault identifying the Hill Defendants as potentially at fault in the accident. Shortly thereafter, for unknown reasons, M.S. dismissed the Hill Defendants from the lawsuit.

M.S. then filed an amended complaint against Publix. Publix again filed a notice listing the Hill Defendants as a non-party at fault. M.S. then moved to re-add the Hill Defendants to her complaint, but the Hill Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint against them, arguing that M.S.’s statute of limitations had passed. The lower court agreed and dismissed the new claims against the Hill Defendants.

On appeal, M.S. argued that she should have been permitted to bring the renewed claims against the Hill Defendants under Tennessee statute 20-1-119. Under that statute, if a defendant identifies a non party at fault in a lawsuit after the statute of limitations against the party has already run, the plaintiff has 90 days from when the non-party is identified to add them as a defendant to the lawsuit. M.S. re-added the Hill Defendants to her lawsuit within 90 days of when Publix identified them as potential parties comparatively at fault in response to the amended claim and, accordingly, her complaint should not have been dismissed.

In response, the Hill Defendants argued that the 90 days should have run from when Publix identified the Hill Defendants as other defendants at fault in response to the original complaint. According to them, when M.S. dismissed them from her lawsuit, she had only 90 days from this original notice to re-add them to the complaint, which she did not do.

After reviewing this complicated procedural circumstances, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with M.S. It found that at the time that the original notice of additional defendants was brought by Publix, the statute of limitations had not yet run against the Hill Defendants so Statute 20-1-119 did not yet apply. It was only after Publix made their second notice, in respond to the amended complaint, that the statute of limitations was up, and thus, M.S. had 90 days from the date of that notice to add the Hill Defendants back into her lawsuit, which she did. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s dismissal of the claims against the Hill Defendants.

While it is unclear why M.S. dismissed the Hill Defendants from her lawsuit only to later re-add them, as a general rule, litigants should try to be as comprehensive as possible in including all possible defendants in their claims. Premises liability attorney Eric Beasley is an experienced litigator who can help you determine the applicable defendants in your lawsuit, or promptly add new defendants as their identifies become known. If you have recently been injured and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Holds No Duty to Keep Parking Spots Safe, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 15, 2017.

Tennessee Court Rejects Claim that Doorframe Was Dangerous Condition, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 9, 2017.

Tennessee Court Grants Summary Judgment When No Risk Could Have Been Anticipated, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 21, 2017