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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Dismissal of Premises Liability Case with Unusually Complicated Procedural History

Ideally, an east Tennessee personal injury lawsuit would proceed as follows:   the plaintiff files the complaint, the defendant files an answer, the case is tried, a judgment is entered, and the case is over. Unfortunately, things do not always work out that way.

A case recently considered by the Tennessee Court of Appeals definitely did not proceed in the usual fashion. It involved two separation actions in general sessions court, two appeals to circuit court, and yet another appeal to the court of appeals. Perhaps not surprisingly, the case still isn’t over.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was a man who was allegedly injured on the premises of the defendant’s place of business. He filed a general sessions complaint in November 2013, but a judgment of dismissal without prejudice was entered when the plaintiff did not appear for trial in January 2014. The plaintiff later filed a motion to set aside the dismissal, but the general sessions court did not rule on the motion at that time.

The plaintiff filed a second general sessions claim in February 2015. That case went to trial and ended in a defense verdict. The plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, which dismissed the second claim based on the statute of limitations. The plaintiff then filed a motion to alter or amend the circuit court’s judgment, but the motion was denied. No further action was taken in the second case.

After the second case was dismissed, the plaintiff asked the general sessions court to rule on his still-pending motion to set aside the dismissal in the first case. The general sessions judge denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed the outcome of the first case to the circuit court. That court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s action on the basis of res judicata. The plaintiff sought further review from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The Court’s Ruling

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment of dismissal, holding that one of the essential elements of res judicata had not been met. Specifically, the appellate court found that the underlying judgment cited by the defendant (the judgment in the second case) had not been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. This was because the general sessions court in the second case lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the doctrine of prior suit pending (in the case in which the first case was filed).

It should be noted that, due to an incorrect notation by the court clerk, the plaintiff thought that his first case had actually been dismissed by final order in February 2014. It was not until sometime after the circuit court dismissed the second case in May 2016 that he learned otherwise.

The appellate court’s decision to set aside the dismissal of the first case effectively gives the plaintiff yet another “bite at the apple” in his attempt to hold the defendant liable for injuries from the accident at issue.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. Call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Knoxville premises liability lawyer.

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