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Tennessee Trial Court Should Have Given Due Consideration to Litigants’ Motion for Expansion of Time for Service of Process in Personal Injury Lawsuit

Timeliness is critically important in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. There are deadlines for filing a claim, deadlines for effectuating service of process, and so on.

Failure to file the appropriate paperwork in a timely fashion can mean the end of the plaintiff’s case – and his or her chance of receiving fair compensation for a serious injury. Thus, it is very important that the injured person consult an east Tennessee personal injury attorney who can help him or her comply with all of the procedural requirements of the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiffs were a married couple who sought to recover monetary compensation for the alleged negligence of the defendants, an advanced practice nurse and a medical clinic. The plaintiffs began their case by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of Shelby County on February 24, 2017. Summons were issued to the defendants at the time of the filing of the plaintiff’s suit, but they were returned without having been served. On September 5, 2017, alias summons were issued. These were served on the defendants on December 6, 2017, which was some 92 days after the complaint had been filed.

On November 2, 2018, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint on the grounds that the suit had been untimely. According to the defendants, the plaintiffs were not entitled to rely upon the original date that their suit was filed to toll the statute of limitations because the alias summons had not been served upon the defendants within 90 days of its issuance as is generally required under Tennessee law. The trial court agreed and ruled in the defendants’ favor. The plaintiffs appealed.

The Appeals’ Court Decision

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson vacated the lower court’s order in the defendants’ favor and remanded the case with instructions to rule upon a motion filed by the plaintiffs in the trial court seeking an enlargement of time pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 6.02. In so doing, the appellate court noted that the lower tribunal had stated that it was “unaware” of any basis for expanding the time for service of process of the plaintiffs’ complaint against the defendant; however, the appellate court pointed out that there had been a motion pending before the lower court seeking an enlargement of time under the rule when it granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. According to the reviewing court, Rule 6.02 “expressly contemplate[d]” a request for an enlargement of time “even after the expiration of the specified period” that an act would otherwise have been permitted if the moving party’s failure to act in a timely fashion was due to excusable neglect.

The appellate court acknowledged that there were other issues raised on appeal (such as whether the time for effecting service had actually elapsed and whether the defendants were entitled to rely on the service of process defense) but opined that, because the trial court’s written order contained no specific rulings on these issues, they were not appropriate for consideration on appeal. On remand, the trial court was directed to adjudicate the plaintiffs’ motion for an enlargement of time.

Speak to an Attorney About an Injury Case

The timely filing of a claim – and the effective service of process of the plaintiff’s complaint – are crucial in an east Tennessee personal injury case. If you have been hurt by another’s negligence or careless, you need to seek legal counsel as soon as possible so that the necessary court filings can be processed in a timely fashion. For an appointment to discuss your case with a helpful medical malpractice attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657.

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