Serving the Defendant with the Lawsuit within One Year of the Wreck

Posted in Personal Injury on January 31, 2014

It is a personal injury plaintiff’s worst nightmare: finding out that you can’t recover for the accident you were in strictly because you failed to comply with a technical, procedural requirement. However frustrating this is, it is all too common in Tennessee civil courts today. The recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision of weighs in on this important topic.

Fair v. Cochran dealt with two important rules: service of process and the statute of limitations. The service of process rule is in place to make sure that the person defending against the law suit knows that the law suit has commenced. Generally, when a plaintiff files a lawsuit against a defendant, that defendant must be served with the papers explaining that the suit has commenced; this is sufficient “service” under the service of process rule.

files-204799-mThe statute of limitations rule is designed to ensure thatthere is some finality to our actions. In other words, a statute of limitations limits the amount of time a plaintiff can wait to bring a lawsuit. Fair v. Cochran deals with the intersection of these two concepts.

The Facts of the Case: Fair v. Cochran

In Fair v. Cochran , the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant and hired someone to serve the defendant. Counsel for the plaintiff did serve the defendant within the statute of limitations but failed to file proof of service in the court until after the statute of limitations had expired. At trial the defendant successfully asked the court to dismiss the case because there was no proof that the defendant was properly served within the statute of limitations in Tennessee. The court’s decision favored the defendant, finding that the plaintiff was not able to use the commencement date of the lawsuit as the “notice” date for the statute of limitations because there was no proof of service.

The Legal Question

This presented the Tennessee Supreme Court with the following question: should the plaintiff be able to use the commencement date of the lawsuit as the service of process date when the defendant was actually served the paperwork but the proof of service was not filed in the court?

The Tennessee Supreme Court found in favor of the plaintiff, construing the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure as to not require the proof of service, only that the defendant was actually served. Because the lower court did not determine if the process server actually served the defendant, the case was remanded for further proceedings.

This case is but one example of how technical procedural rules can break an otherwise solid case for a plaintiff. While this case turned out well for the plaintiff, it would have been better had she not had her cased dismissed in the first place. With that said, this case does create some favorable law for Tennessee personal injury plaintiffs, moving forward.

What To Do If You Have Been Involved in a Tennessee Accident

If you have been injured in an accident in Tennessee, make sure to speak to an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney immediately. With an attorney’s assistance you can ensure that you are doing everything possible to sidestep the common pitfalls that all plaintiff’s face. Click here to contact an attorney online, or call 615-200-1111 today.

See Related Blog Posts:

Honda Bike and ATV Safety Questioned, Nashville Injury Lawyer’s Blog, published November 1, 2012.

Meningitis Outbreak: Ten Deaths in Tennessee, Nashville Injury Lawyer’s Blog, published October 25, 2012.