§42.14 Unsound Mind Exception

The Case: Abels v. Genie Industries, Inc., 202 S.W.3d 99 (Tenn. 2006).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff was appointed "Guardian Ad Litem" on behalf of his nephew who sustained severe brain injuries on July 7, 2003 while operating a "man lift" that was designed and manufactured by Defendant Genie Industries. Plaintiff brought a products liability action against Genie in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on July 6, 2004. Approximately eighteen months after the injury, on January 3, 2005, Plaintiff sought to amend his original complaint to add Rental Services Corporation ("RSC") as a defendant. RSC moved for summary judgment, asserting the one-year statute of limitations provision set forth in Tennessee Code annotated section 28-3-104(a)(1) (2000) barred its addition to the action. The District Court, finding insufficient precedence for the determinative issues of state law on which the motion for summary judgment rested, certified two questions for the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Pursuant to Rule 23 of the Tennessee Rules of the Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee has certified two questions to this Court.
    • Whether Tennessee's 'discovery rule' exception to the accrual of a cause of action refers to the knowledge and diligence of the injured person or to the knowledge and diligence of a legal representative who has accepted responsibility for the injured person's tort claims arising out of a single incident?
    • Whether, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106, the disability of 'unsound mind' is 'removed' when the injured person's legal representative accepts responsibility for the injured person's tort claims arising out of a single incident?"
    202 S.W.3d at 100-101.
  • "Because we find the second certified question to be dispositive of the first, we begin with it. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the appointment of a legal guardian does not remove an injured person's disability of 'unsound mind' under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 and that the statute of limitations remains tolled so long as the injured person remains so disabled." Id. at 101.
  • "Accordingly, we answer the second certified question in the negative: the disability of unsound mind referenced in Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 is not removed when the disabled person's legal representative is appointed and/or accepts responsibility for the disabled person's tort claims. Rather, the tolling of the statute of limitations continues until the disabled person's mind becomes 'sound,' or the person dies." Id. at 105.
  • "We hold that the tolling provision of Tennessee's legal disability statute remains in effect as to plaintiffs of 'unsound mind' for so long as they remain of 'unsound mind' regardless of the appointment of a legal guardian and/or the commencement of a lawsuit by a representative on behalf of the disabled plaintiff. The 'discovery rule' is inapplicable to plaintiffs of 'unsound mind' for so long as they remain of unsound mind." Id. at 106.

Other Sources of Note: Sullivan ex rel. Wrongful Death Beneficiaries Of Sullivan v. Chattanooga Medical Investors, LP , 221 S.W.3d 506 (Tenn. 2007) (holding that the rule articulated in Abels also applies in the context of the existence of a durable power of attorney); Doe v. Coffee County Board of Education, 852 S.W.2d 899 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992), perm. appeal denied, (May 3, 1993) (discussing unsound mind exception in context of child sexual abuse case).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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