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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reversed Trial Court’s Dismissal of Premises Liability Claim Against Defendants Who Had Previously Been Non-Suited

When someone falls in a store or in another place of business, there may be multiple parties who could potentially be named as defendants – corporations, subsidiaries, parent companies, holding companies, land management companies… the list goes on and on.

When an east Tennessee premises liability lawsuit is filed against multiple defendants, some of those parties may be dismissed, either voluntarily as part of the plaintiff’s litigation strategy or by the trial court on motion of the defendant(s). In cases of a voluntary dismissal, the plaintiff may have the option of refiling the claim within a certain time period.

Additionally, when a defendant asserts fault by a non-party as part of a comparative fault defense, the plaintiff may be able to amend his or her complaint to add those individuals or businesses as party defendants.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate court case, the plaintiff was a customer who slipped and fell at a grocery store. She brought suit against the owners of the store, asserting claims for ordinary negligence, premises liability, and negligence per se against the store. She also named as defendants the owners of the property upon which the store was located, thereby making claims of premises liability and negligence per se against them. About six months after her complaint was filed, the plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of her claims against all of the defendants except one.

As the litigation progressed, the remaining defendant asserted a defense of comparative fault against the parties that the plaintiff had voluntarily dismissed from the case earlier. The plaintiff amended her complaint to add the other defendants back into the lawsuit. Those defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s case, and the trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s order.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville reversed the trial court’s decision. The plaintiff clearly filed her original lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Her voluntary non-suit against some of the defendants gave her an additional year to refile her complaint against those defendants if she so chose. However, the defendants argued that the plaintiff was constrained by the shorter time frame of T.C.A. § 20-1-119, which states that a plaintiff has 90 days in which to amend his or her complaint when a defendant alleges comparative fault by a non-party.

Since the first time that the remaining defendant identified the dismissed defendants as tortfeasors who should be assigned comparative fault when they were non-parties was when the remaining defendant filed its answer to the plaintiff’s amended complaint, the plaintiff had 90 days in which to file another complaint naming the dismissed defendants as parties. The plaintiff having filed such a complaint within that 90-day window, it was an error for the trial court to dismiss her complaint.

Contact a Knowledgeable Knoxville Injury Attorney

If you’ve been hurt because of the negligence of a store owner or property owner, you may be able to pursue monetary compensation to help with your medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. If you are ready to talk about your east Tennessee slip and fall case with an experienced and helpful attorney, the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., can help. For an appointment to discuss your case with a member of our legal team, call us now at 865-524-5657. You should be mindful that the Tennessee statute of limitations for personal injury cases is short, so it is very important to talk to a lawyer about your case as soon as possible.

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