Tennessee Supreme Court confirms that a plaintiff can add a defendant under T.C.A. § 20-1-119 even when the plaintiff was aware of the added defendant’s fault before the statute of limitations expired.

In a unanimous opinion, Michael S. Becker et al v. Ford Motor Co., M2013-02546-SC-R23-CV, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that T.C.A. § 20-1-119 allows a plaintiff to add a defendant whose involvement was raised by the original defendant, even when the plaintiff was aware of the new defendant before the statute of limitations expired.

The case involves Michael Becker, who was riding in a truck driven by his son when the truck hit a light pole. Mr. Becker was injured and filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County against Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of the truck. Ford removed the case to federal court. Then, in its answer to Mr. Becker’s complaint, Ford named the son as the person who caused the accident.

Mr. Becker asked the federal court for permission to amend his complaint to add his son as an additional defendant. By this time, the legal deadline for filing the suit had passed. However, a state law allows plaintiffs to file suit against new defendants who are named by the original defendant, despite the expiration of the statute of limitations.

The federal court was unsure whether Mr. Becker could add his son as a defendant because Mr. Becker was previously aware of his son’s involvement in the accident. Accordingly, the federal court turned to the Tennessee Supreme Court, asking whether the state law only applied to defendants who were unknown to the plaintiff prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Interpreting T.C.A. § 20-1-119, the Supreme Court held that the law’s plain language does not require that the new defendant be unknown to the plaintiff prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Mr. Becker was therefore permitted to file suit against the son.  While suing one’s son is unusual, this case is important as a plaintiff may choose, for many reasons, not to name another person who might be at fault as a defendant in his or her original lawsuit.

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