Find out how long you have to file a lawsuit in the Volunteer State
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.
Statute of limitations for Tennessee personal injury lawsuits
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|
Claims against local, county, and state governments
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.
When does the clock start ticking in Tennessee?
Once you know the applicable time limit for your lawsuit, you’ll need to know when the clock starts ticking.
For most personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations starts ticking on the date the injury occurs.
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).
Exceptions to the Tennessee statute of limitations
There are a couple of important exceptions to the statute of limitations depending on the plaintiff’s circumstances:
- Plaintiff is under the age of 18. If the plaintiff is under the age of 18 when the injury giving rise to the lawsuit occurs, the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until the plaintiff turns 18.
- Plaintiff is mentally incompetent. If the plaintiff is mentally incompetent when the injury giving rise to the lawsuit occurs, the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until the person is declared mentally competent. However, if the plaintiff has a court-ordered fiduciary (someone who acts on the plaintiff’s behalf), the fiduciary must file the lawsuit within the regular statute of limitations.
What happens if I don’t file my lawsuit before the statute of limitations?
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.