In Tennessee, a civil action officially begins when you file a complaint, pay the filing fee required by the court, and serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint and summons.
The law recognizes that plaintiffs can’t always file a complaint and serve the defendants immediately after being injured. On the other hand, the law appreciates the fact that defendants shouldn’t have to face never-ending threats of litigation.
The statute of limitations seeks to balance the interests of plaintiffs and defendants by setting a deadline on how long plaintiffs have to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Let’s take a closer look.
Something that is confusing for many people who aren’t familiar with the legal system is that there’s no one statute of limitations for all cases. Each type of lawsuit has its own statute of limitations in Tennessee.
Here’s an overview of the statute of limitations for common civil cases in Tennessee, which happen to be some of the strictest (shortest) in the country:
|Tennessee statute of limitations|
|Type of case||Time limit to file suit||Tennessee statute|
|Breach of contract||6 years||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-109(a)(3)|
|Child sexual abuse||3 years||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-116|
|Legal malpractice||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1)|
|Libel||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1)(A)|
|Malicious prosecution||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1)(A)|
|Medical malpractice||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1)|
|Personal injury||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1)(A)|
|Product liability||1, 3, or 4 years||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1), and Tenn. Code. § 28-3-105(1)|
|Slander||6 months||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-3-103|
|Workers’ compensation claims||1 year||Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-6-203|
It may surprise you to learn that the government has something called “sovereign immunity,” which protects the government from being sued without consent.
Fortunately, Tennessee passed a statute (called the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act) that allows the government to be sued in most situations. However, this statute requires plaintiffs to follow certain procedures that they don’t have to follow when filing a lawsuit against a private person or entity.
In Tennessee, plaintiffs have 1 year from the date of the injury to sue the government, regardless of the type of case.
What’s more, plaintiffs are limited in the amount of damages they can recover. When suing the government, it’s a good idea to meet with a Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible to make sure you’re following the proper procedures.
Once you know the applicable time limit for your lawsuit, you’ll need to know when the clock starts ticking.
However, if you’re unaware of the injury on the date it occurs, the “discovery rule” will, in some cases, delay the clock until the date you discover your injury (or until the date you should have discovered your injury).
There are a couple of important exceptions to the statute of limitations depending on the plaintiff’s circumstances:
If you file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run, the defendant will almost certainly file a motion to dismiss your case. The court will then schedule a hearing and decide whether you filed your lawsuit before or after the statute of limitations has run.
If the court determines that you filed your lawsuit after the statute of limitations, your lawsuit will be dismissed.
If my lawsuit is dismissed, I can just file it again, right?
Wrong. If your lawsuit is dismissed, you’ll be permanently barred from filing a lawsuit based on the same action. In other words, you won’t recover a single penny.