What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Tennessee?

Here's how Tennessee's personal injury statute of limitations works, and why missing the filing deadline set by this law will likely mean the end of your case.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been involved in a slip-and-fall, a car accident, or any other incident where someone else's conduct caused you harm, you may be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee's civil courts. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for this type of case. (For those not fluent in "legalese," a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court.)

In this article, we'll cover the details of Tennessee's personal injury statute of limitations, explain why the deadline is so important, and summarize a few instances when the filing period might be extended.

One Year is the Standard Time Limit for Tennessee Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Tennessee personal injury statute of limitations is spelled out at Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104, which sets a one-year deadline for the filing of all lawsuits seeking a legal remedy for "injuries to the person." It doesn't matter whether the case is driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after most car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and other mishaps) or intentional tort (which applies to civil cases filed over assault and other intentional conduct).

So, when another person's careless or intentional act causes you injury, and you want to ask a Tennessee court for a civil remedy (damages) for your losses, you have only one year to get the initial documentation (the "complaint" and other required paperwork) filed in court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident. In case you're wondering, Tennessee's one-year filing window is one of the smallest among all states.

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than a year has passed since the underlying accident, but you try to file your personal injury lawsuit anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly file a motion to dismiss the case. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (more details on these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.

Tennessee's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously pivotal if you want to take your injury case to court via a formal lawsuit, but the filing deadline set by this law is also crucial to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. If the other side knows that the one-year deadline has passed, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage, and in that situation, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat.

Exceptions to the Tennessee Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Tennessee has identified a number of different scenarios that might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the filing deadline. Here are some examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the standard timeline:

  • If, at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under 18 years of age or has been "adjudicated incompetent," the injured person will be entitled to one full year to get their personal injury lawsuit filed once reaching the age of 18 or having their competence restored. (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106.)
  • If the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) is absent from or resides outside the state of Tennessee some time after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the one-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-111.)
  • If criminal charges have been filed against any person who is alleged to have caused the injuries (for example, if criminal assault charges have been brought against the person you're trying to sue for civil assault), the personal injury lawsuit filing deadline might be extended to two years (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104(a)(2)).

If you have questions about how the Tennessee statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney.

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