Personal Injury

How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Tennessee?

By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
How the Tennessee personal injury statute of limitations works, and why the filing deadline set by this law is so important.

If you're thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee, it's crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your potential case. If you miss the filing deadline set by this law, you've almost certainly lost your right to any legal remedy against the person who caused your accident.

You Have One Year to File Most Personal Injury Lawsuits in Tennessee

The statute of limitations that applies to most personal injury claims in Tennessee can be found at Tennessee Code section 28-3-104, which gives you one year to file a lawsuit against the person or entity you think is responsible for causing your injury.

So, whether we're talking about a car accident, a slip and fall, or any other kind of mishap, if you want to file a personal injury lawsuit of any kind in Tennessee, you need to get the initial paperwork -- including the personal injury complaint -- filed in court within one year. The "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying incident (unless an exception to the standard deadline applies; more on these later). (More: Common Kinds of Personal Injury Claims.)

Why Does This Deadline Matter?

It’s critical that you be aware of Tennessee's one-year deadline as it applies to your potential personal injury lawsuit. With rare exceptions (discussed below), if you miss the deadline, you will no longer have the right to sue the at-fault party and ask the court to award you damages for your injuries and other losses, no matter how badly you were hurt or how egregious the at-fault party's conduct.

Even if there’s a strong possibility that your case will settle outside of court (which is very common with personal injury claims) the threat of a looming lawsuit can be very useful in settlement negotiations. But if you’ve missed the statute of limitations deadline, and the other side knows it, you will have lost all of your bargaining power.

Exceptions to the Standard Tennessee Statute of Limitations

In certain situations, the Tennessee personal injury statute of limitations "clock" won't start running on the date of the accident, or the circumstances might pause the running of the clock after it has already started, effectively extending the filing deadline. Let's look at a few examples:
  • If, at the time of the underlying accident, the injured person is under 18 years of age or has been "adjudicated incompetent," the injured person will be entitled to one full year to get their personal injury lawsuit filed once reaching the age of 18 or having their competence restored. (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106.)
  • If the person responsible for the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) is absent from or resides outside the state of Tennessee some time after the underlying accident, but before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the one-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-111.)
  • If criminal charges have been filed against any person who is alleged to have caused the injuries (for example, if criminal assault charges have been brought against the person you're trying to sue for civil assault), the personal injury lawsuit filing deadline might be extended to two years (Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104(a)(2)).
These are just a few examples. If you have specific questions about how the Tennessee personal injury statute of limitations applies to your case -- especially if the filing deadline has already passed or is right around the corner -- you may want to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Learn more about finding and working with the right personal injury lawyer.
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