Tennessee Plaintiff Wins Appeal to Advance Lawsuit Arising from Slip and Fall at Grocery Store

Posted by Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC on February 8, 2018

In some cases, procedural issues could result in barring a personal injury claim, but a skilled Tennessee premises liability attorney can advance an argument against dismissal.  In a January 30, 2018 case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed whether a trial court had properly dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against some of the defendants that she had sued after suffering a fall in a grocery store.

The plaintiff in the case had slipped on an unsecured mat at a supermarket and fell, sustaining injuries.  She alleged that the shopping cart and the unsecured mat caused her to trip, and she brought claims for ordinary negligence, premises liability, and negligence per se against four entities that owned or operated the store.  The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed without prejudice three of the four defendants a few months after bringing the lawsuit.  She subsequently filed an amended complaint against the one remaining defendant.  The defendant filed its answer, asserting as an affirmative defense the comparative fault of the other defendants who had been dismissed.   The plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint, renaming those defendants pursuant to TCA § 20-1-119.  The trial court ruled that the plaintiff’s claims were barred, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Tennessee statute at issue generally provides that in civil actions in which a defendant alleges the comparative fault of another person in its answer, and the plaintiff would otherwise be barred from bringing suit against the person by the statute of limitations, the plaintiff may amend the complaint to add the person as a defendant within 90 days.  The only question on appeal was whether the plaintiff in the case properly added the defendants to the second amended complaint pursuant to that statute, in light of the fact that the defendants were once parties to the original complaint.

The plaintiff argued that the 90-day window did not begin to run until September 2016, when the defendant filed its answer to the second amended complaint since that was the first time comparative fault was asserted in an answer against the other defendants as non-parties after the statute of limitations had expired.  The appeals court began its analysis by looking at the plain language of the statute to determine the meaning.  The court found that the statute was not ambiguous and applies when non-parties are identified after the statute of limitations against them had run.  As a result, the 90-day window of TCA § 20-1-119 may only be triggered by the filing of an answer by a defendant sued within the statute of limitations that alleges fault against a non-party after the statute of limitations has run.

Despite the fact that the other defendants were once parties to the action, the appeals court held that the plaintiff met the requirements of the statute.  Specifically, the court found that the other defendants were not parties when the defendant filed its answer asserting comparative negligence, the statute of limitations against the other defendants had run, and the plaintiff had amended her complaint to add the other defendants within the 90-day deadline.  Accordingly, the plaintiff was permitted to continue her lawsuit against all of the defendants.

You can advance a lawsuit against the negligent party responsible for your injuries with the help of a dedicated Nashville injury attorney.  At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, we can assist victims of premises liability accidents, medical malpractice, automobile collisions, and other wrongful or negligent conduct.  Contact the law office of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online to arrange your free consultation.

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