Tennessee

Tennessee’s One Year Statute of Limitations Can Be Extended to Two Years When Criminal Charges Are Pending Against the Defendant

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Tennessee’s one year statute of limitations for personal injury claims often forces plaintiffs to file suit before they even know the full extent of their injuries.  On the other hand, there are probably many meritorious cases that cannot be filed because the statute of limitations expires before the injury victims even think about filing a lawsuit.  Occasionally, plaintiffs cannot access critical evidence due a pending criminal investigation.  The Tennessee legislature has finally granted some relief in the latter situation by extending the statute of limitations from one to two years if:

“(A) Criminal charges are brought against any person alleged to have caused or contributed to the injury; (B) The conduct, transaction, or occurrence that gives rise to the cause of action for civil damages is the subject of a criminal prosecution commenced within one (1) year by: (i) A law enforcement officer; (ii) A district attorney general; or (iii) A grand jury; and (C) The cause of action is brought by the person injured by the criminal conduct against the party prosecuted for such conduct.”  T.C.A. § 28-3-104(a)(2).

So if criminal charges are brought against a defendant within one year after the wreck or other event causing injury, the one year SOL can be extended for another year, if all of the foregoing conditions are met.  This amendment to T.C.A. § 28-3-104 was effective July 1, 2015.  Unfortunately, not many lawyers will be willing to take the risk of waiting more than a year to file suit in a personal injury case where criminal charges are pending, so this provision will not be used often.  However, situations can be envisioned where a meritorious claim might be saved by the operation of this new law.

New Law: Punitive Damages

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Effective July 1, 2013, punitive damages may be awarded against a defendant based on vicarious liability only if the finder of fact determines by clear and convincing evidence that:
(1) the act/omission was done by a person employed in a management capacity while in the scope of employment;
(2) the defendant was reckless in hiring, retaining, supervising, or training, and said recklessness proximately caused the loss or injury; or,
(3) the defendant authorized, ratified, or approved the act or omission with knowledge or reckless disregard.

The exact language amending TCA 29-39-104 is as follows:

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 29-39-104, is amended by adding the following as a new subsection (g):

(g)(1) Notwithstanding subdivision (a)(9), punitive damages may be awarded against a defendant based on vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of an agent or employee only if the finder of fact determines by special verdict based on clear and convincing evidence that one or more of the following has occurred:

(A) The act or omission was committed by a person employed in a management capacity while that person was acting within the scope of employment;

(B) The defendant was reckless in hiring, retaining, supervising or training the agent or employee and that recklessness was the proximate cause of the act or omission that caused the loss or injury; or

(C) The defendant authorized, ratified or approved the act or omission with knowledge or conscious or reckless disregard that the act or omission may result in the loss or injury.

(2) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to expand or increase the scope of vicarious liability or punitive damages liability under Tennessee law.

(3) For purposes of this subsection, “a person employed in a management capacity” means an employee with authority to set policy and exercise control, discretion, and independent judgment over a significant scope of the employer’s business.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2013, and shall apply to all actions accruing on or after that date, the public welfare requiring it.

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