Two Year SOL in Tennessee per TCA 28-3-104(a)(2): The Younger case

In Younger v. Okbahhanes, (Tenn.Ct.App. Jan. 28, 2021), the Court reviewed a matter of first impression in Tennessee; namely, whether TCA 28-3-104(a)(2) was applicable to traffic citations.  The Plaintiff was represented by Patrick A. Cruise and John Chandler of The Hamilton Firm.   Mr. Younger was injured as the result of a collision with a tractor trailer in September of 2017 in Roane County, Tennessee. In April of 2019, Mr. Younger filed his Complaint against the Defendant.  Plaintiff alleged that he was injured as a direct result of the defendant's negligence; that the defendant was criminally charged for failure to exercise due care; and, that the cause of action was timely per TCA 28-3-104(a)(2).  The Defendant filed an Answer and for Summary Judgment on the basis that the Complaint was not timely filed within one year of the date of the wreck.

The Trial Court denied the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that Plaintiff's action was timely because the Defendant had been charged with a criminal offense and a prosecution had been commenced related to the conduct giving rise to the Plaintiff's cause of action.

The Defendant filed for an extraordinary appeal, which the Court of Appeals granted in June of 2020.   The reviewing court held "that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated 28-3-104(a)(2) is clear and unambiguous. . . .  As the statute is clear and unambiguous, we apply its plain meaning."

The reviewing court then analyzed the relevant facts of the case and applied those facts to TCA 28-3-104(a)(2).  The defendant was issued a citation for violation of TCA 55-8-136 (failure to exercise due care).  The issue for the reviewing court was whether such a citation "is considered a criminal charge as provided in TCA 28-3-104(a)(2)(A) and a criminal prosecution as provided in subsection (B)."  The Court noted that a violation of failure to exercise due care (TCA 55-8-136) is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days incarceration and a fine of up to $50.  As a result, failure to exercise due care per TCA 55-8-136 is a criminal offense.

The Court then looked at the fact that the citation was a traffic offense, and referenced TCA 55-10-207(d), which provides that when a traffic citation has been prepared, accepted, and delivered to the Court, the citation "shall constitute a complaint" and the officer is not required to file any other affidavit or complaint with the court.  In other words, the prosecution was commenced by the law enforcement officer once he had satisfied TCA 55-10-207(d).  The defendant unsuccessfully argued that TCA 55-10-207(d) was not applicable and that the prosecution was never commenced.  The Court noted that the General Assembly specifically included that a criminal prosecution may be commenced by a law enforcement officer. TCA 28-3-104(a)(2)(B)(i).

The reviewing court concluded as follows:

"We hold that the traffic citation issued to Defendant for failure to exercise due care, which had been prepared, accepted, and the original citation filed with the court, is a criminal charge and a criminal prosecution by a law enforcement officer, such that Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-3-104(a)(2) is applicable to extend the statute of limitations in this action to two years. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s judgment denying Defendant’s summary judgment motion." 

Bisected by the Tennessee River, bordering Georgia and Alabama, at the junction of three interstate highways, including the heavily traveled I-75 corridor, Chattanooga, Tennessee is both a historic railroad town and a modern transportation hub.  I-24 begins in Chattanooga running northwest toward Nashville, TN.  I-59 also begins just outside Chattanooga and runs south toward Birmingham, AL.  To the south, toward Atlanta along I-75, lies Dalton, GA a world center for the carpet and flooring industry. Chattanooga’s diversified economy includes the Volkswagen North American assembly plant, as well as insurance giants Blue Cross Blue Shield and Unum.  Chattanooga is also a major tourist destination attracting millions of visitors each year.  As a result, The Hamilton Firm LLC focus much of its work on representation of persons injured in trucking and transportation related cases as well as serious workplace injury cases.

Chattanooga is the headquarters for two of the nation’s major trucking companies, U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport. And as crossroads city, Chattanooga ranks first in the nation among all metropolitan cities for the volume of freight moving through the city by truck (according to a recent freight study by Cambridge Systematics and reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press). Problem areas include the interchanges as well as the entire section of I-24 from I-59 to I-75, and I-75 north to Cleveland, TN. Tractor trailers, while essential to a thriving economy, also present great risks to the traveling public if not operated safely by well trained professional drivers with well maintained equipment.

Chattanooga is also a rail hub for Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads.  Travel, transport and commerce by water, rail and road are essential to our lives and economy, but all the economic activity also brings traffic and congestion, which can lead to more wrecks, accidents and injuries.  This can be a volatile mix when combined with the high freight volume on tractor trailers traveling through or originating in the area.