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TN Supreme Court: Auto Accident Victim Allowed to Add Driver to Lawsuit Against Truck Manufacturer

Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC

A recent ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court has yielded an important victory for persons injured in accidents as they prepare for trial. The ruling in Becker v. Ford Motor Company allowed an auto accident victim to alter his civil lawsuit to pursue not only the manufacturer of the vehicle in which he was riding, but also the driver of his vehicle. The ruling clarifies that injured persons may seek to add any third party mentioned in the defense’s response filing, even if the statute of limitations has already run.

On July 28, 2012, Michael Becker was riding with his son, Phillip Becker, in Chattanooga, when their Ford F-150 pickup truck left the roadway and struck a light pole, significantly injuring the father. The father sued Ford Motor Company, claiming that the truck was defective and that the manufacturer breached a warranty to the man. Ford successfully transferred the case from state to federal court, and claimed, as part of its response, that the Beckers, including the son, caused the accident.

The father sought to amend his complaint to add the son to the case as a potentially liable party. The automaker fought the requested change, arguing that, because the statute of limitations had expired and the father knew the son’s identity and role in the accident prior to the statute’s expiration, the law barred him from adding the son. The U.S. District Court asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.

The court sided with the father. The issue, the court explained, revolved around a specific state statute, Tenn. Code Section 20-1-119. The state Legislature created that statute to permit injured persons to add additional parties to a lawsuit that the defendant named in its responsive court filing. The statute permitted plaintiffs to make these changes even if the limitations period had expired. Section 20-1-119 did not restrict an injured person’s right to amend a complaint under these circumstances to cases where the third party was previously unknown to the injured person, according to the court.

The court decisions clarified that an injured person’s knowledge of potential third parties is entirely irrelevant to that plaintiff’s right to amend a complaint consistent with Section 20-1-119. Whenever a defendant raises an assertion that a third party caused or contributed to the underlying injuries suffered by a plaintiff, that plaintiff can amend his complaint. In the Becker case, that meant the father was entitled to amend his complaint to add the son.

This decision is meaningful as it reaffirms the rights of injured persons. In many cases (especially auto accidents), the underlying facts are a complex web of contributing factors. The causes for an auto accident may include driver error or misconduct, vehicle defects or unsafe road conditions, among other things. Understanding all of the elements that played a role in the accident that injured you is essential to putting on your best case. To ensure that you have the assistance you need in presenting your injury case, contact the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC. Our attorneys have the skill and experience to help you advance your case and get the recovery you deserve.

Reach us online or call (615) 975-7882.

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