Like every other state, Tennessee laws contain statutes of limitations that dictate the timeframe in which a claim must be brought. Generally, a personal injury claim must be brought within one year from the date of injury. However, there can be some exceptions to the rule, depending on whether an injury was unascertainable for a period of time before it was discovered.
Two United States District Courts, one in the Middle District of Tennessee and another in the Western District, both recently dismissed the claims of individuals who were seeking personal injury damages.
In Davis v. TIN, Inc., the Middle District Court held that the plaintiffs’ personal injury claims were time-barred under Tennessee’s statute of limitations. In that case, the husband and wife plaintiffs alleged that they were exposed to toxic substances as a result of the husband’s job in the defendant’s plant. After a workplace incident involving the substance, the husband began to experience physical injuries, including a skin rash and sores. He also asserted that he exposed his wife to the toxin to contaminate through their normal interactions. The plaintiffs contend that the wife also began suffering from a skin rash and sores. Several years after the initial exposure, the plaintiff-wife was diagnosed with a condition that resulted from the exposure to the substance.
When the plaintiffs filed their suit approximately three years after the exposure, the defendant requested that the court dismiss all the claims, since they were not timely filed. Tennessee law provides that a plaintiff is regarded as discovering a right of action when he or she becomes aware of facts sufficient to show that he or she has suffered an injury as a result of wrongdoing. A statute of limitations will only be tolled or suspended, during the time when a plaintiff would have no knowledge that a wrong occurred. Where the cause of an injury is immediately known, the statute of limitations begins running without delay. Since both plaintiffs experienced their injuries almost instantaneously after the workplace incident, they had actual knowledge of both the injuries and their cause for more than one year prior to filing their suit.
Similarly, in Cobb v. TVA, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee dismissed a plaintiff’s complaint on the basis that it was untimely. The Cobb case involved an individual suffering from dementia, who sustained injuries as a result of a car accident. Tennessee law provides an exception to the standard one-year statute of limitations for persons who are adjudicated incompetent. In that case, the law extends the statute of limitations to up to three years. The federal court interpreted the statute to mean that a person must have been legally declared incompetent in order for the extension of time to apply. Moreover, the court noted that there had been no declaration that the plaintiff was incompetent at the time of the automobile accident. Since the plaintiff filed her case approximately two years after the accident, her claims were untimely under the standard one-year statute of limitations.
As these cases show, it is vital to obtain qualified legal representation very soon after you suspect you have been injured as a result of another person’s negligence. Even if you are unaware of the extent of your injuries, the clock begins running as soon as you should reasonably know of them. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries because of somebody else’s wrongdoing, don’t hesitate to contact the Nashville injury attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today.