In Tennessee, an accident victim has one year from the date of the crash to file a personal injury lawsuit. This is known as the statute of limitations. Each state sets limits on how long a plaintiff can wait after an accident or injury to proceed with a civil case. These laws exist to keep the courts system from becoming congested, and to ensure the evidence is as fresh as possible.
The one-year statute of limitations on injury claims is standard in Tennessee, but there are some situations in which state law allows for an extension of that deadline.
What are the exceptions to statute of limitations laws?
You may have heard the word “tolling” applied to cases in which the statute of limitations is a factor. To toll a statute of limitations is to stop it from running for a time. There are a few common reasons for this to happen:
- The victim was a minor at the time of the accident.
- The victim is mentally or physically incompetent as a result of the injury.
- The victim was bankrupt at the time of the injury.
According to Tennessee Code § 28-1-106, victims in these situations can proceed with a civil action “after the removal of such a disability,” within three years from that point. (Note: State law technically defines being younger than 18 as a “disability.”) For example, if a victim is in a coma because of an accident and cannot make decisions about her legal or financial situation, the statute of limitations will “toll” until the victim sufficiently recovers.
What if the defendant stopped me from discovering my injury, and I could not file my lawsuit in time?
While this is rare, you may be able to toll the statute of limitations if the defendant negligently or intentionally prevented you from learning of your energy. This is known as “fraudulent concealment.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court has established that plaintiffs can hold defendants liable if they can establish that the defendant knowingly concealed the injury or failed to disclose facts that would have led to its discovery through “reasonable care and diligence.”
If the plaintiff can prove fraudulent concealment, she can toll the statute of limitations until the time of discovery. Following a car accident, this might apply to situations in which a third party was at fault. Suppose a car manufacturer knowingly sold a vehicle with an undue risk of brake defects. If this problem caused your accident, but you did not learn of the concealment until several months later, you could toll your case until the time of discovery under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment.
What if the accident results in criminal charges?
Recent changes to Tennessee law allow another exception to the statute of limitations if the accident that caused your injury results in a criminal case against the defendant. Tennessee Code § 28-3-104 extends the statute of limitations to two years if “criminal charges are brought against any person alleged to have caused or contributed to the injury.” This would likely apply if you were injured in a DUI accident.
Is the statute of limitations different if someone died in the accident?
No. If the accident results in a death, surviving family members can file a wrongful death action. While the statute of limitations is still one year, the spouse of the deceased will have one year from the date of death to file suit, e.g., if the accident occurred on January 1, 2017 but the victim did not die until January 25, 2017, the spouse would have until January 25, 2018 to file suit.
Get help from the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC.
If you are injured in a car accident in the Knoxville area, a car accident attorney with the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril PLLC will work to get you the compensation you deserve. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to build your case, so one of your first steps in the difficult time following a crash should be calling an attorney who can guide you through every part of the process.
Call 865-546-1111 to set up a free consultation.