The following section from Day on Torts Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law​​​ is out of date and should not be used. It remains a part of this site for historical purposes only. An updated version of the book is available by subscription at (Additional information below.)

§42.4 Discovery Rule

The Case: Terry v. Niblack, 979 S.W.2d 583 (Tenn. 1999).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff gave birth to a child out of wedlock and filed a petition with the juvenile court to name an individual the father. A blood test was then conducted by Defendants, which excluded the individual named in the petition from being the father. A second test was then taken approximately one year later, which established that the first test was incorrect, and the individual named in the petition was the father. Plaintiff subsequently brought suit, alleging negligence in conducting the blood test.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The parties recognize that the one-year statute of limitations begins to run when a plaintiff discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable care and diligence, should have discovered, the existence of a legal cause of action. Teeters v. Currey, 518 S.W.2d 512, 517 (Tenn. 1974) (adopting 'discovery rule'); see Hoffman v. Hospital Affiliates, Inc., 652 S.W.2d 341, 342-43 (Tenn. 1983) (following Teeters). This so-called 'discovery rule' prevents the anomaly of requiring that a plaintiff file suit 'prior to knowledge of his injury or . . . that he sue to vindicate a non-existent wrong, at a time when injury is unknown and unknowable.' Teeters, 518 S.W.2d at 515. As we have explained:
    [A] cause of action in tort does not accrue until a judicial remedy is available. A judicial remedy is available when (1) a breach of a legally recognized duty owed to plaintiff by defendant (2) causes plaintiff legally cognizable damage. A breach of a legally cognizable duty occurs when plaintiff discovers or 'reasonably should have discovered, (1) the occasion, the manner and means by which a breach of duty occurred that produced . . . injury; and (2) the identity of the defendant who breached the duty.'
    Wyatt v. A-Best, Co. , 910 S.W.2d 851, 855 (Tenn. 1995) (citations omitted)." 979 S.W.2d at 586.
  • "[W]e conclude that the statute of limitations did not begin to run on the day the plaintiff learned of the first blood test. Although the plaintiff contends that the statute did not commence until her actual discovery that the first blood test was erroneous, i.e., when the juvenile court determined the second test was correct on October 11, 1995, we agree with the Court of Appeals' determination that the plaintiff should reasonably have discovered the existence of this cause of action on June 6, 1995, the date she learned the results of the second blood test that there was a 99.5 percent probability that Hayner was the father. In either case, the outcome is the same because the suit was filed on April 2, 1996, which was within one year of either date." Id. at 587.

Other Sources of Note: Gunter v. Laboratory Corp. of America, 121 S.W.3d 636 (Tenn. 2003) (holding that the three year statute of limitations pertaining to actions for injuries to personal property applied to a negligence claim against testing laboratory when the laboratory negligently conducted a paternity test and overstated the probability of paternity); Green v. Sacks, 56 S.W.3d 513 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (jury issue present on issue of whether plaintiff filed suit within one year of discovery; excellent discussion of the law).

Recent Cases: 

Young v. Enerpac , 299 S.W.3d 815 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009) (affirming summary judgment on basis of statute of limitations finding discovery rule did not apply in case where plaintiff was disoriented because of his injuries and did not know or understand his injuries for several days after accident); Hanna v. Sheflin, No. M2007-01158-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2840575 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 22, 2008) (upholding dismissal of conversion claim by plaintiff against her parents for settlement funds she entrusted to her father as time-barred finding the statute of limitations was not tolled due to fraudulent concealment because daughter failed to exercise reasonable care and diligence in discovering her father's alleged conversion of the funds); Grindstaff v. Bowman, No. E2007-00135-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2219274 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 29, 2008) (holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 only applies when a defendant alleges fault of a nonparty in an answer or amended answer and not in a separate letter to plaintiff's counsel that is not part of a pleading); Hensley v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. E2007-00323-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 683755 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 3, 2008) (affirming trial court's grant of a directed verdict in favor of plaintiff on statute of limitations defense finding there was no evidence that plaintiff had notice sufficient to trigger running of statute of limitations); Liggett v. Brentwood Builders, LLC, No. M2007-00444-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 836115 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2008) (upholding grant of summary judgment based on expiration of statute of limitations); Brandt v. McCord, No. M2007-00312-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 820533 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2008) (upholding dismissal based on statute of limitations and finding fraudulent concealment did not apply to toll statute of limitations); Luna v. St. Thomas Hospital, 2007 WL 4322019, M2006-01728-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 4, 2007) (reversing summary judgment finding genuine issue of material fact as to when plaintiff should have discovered cause of action against the defendant); McMahan v. Sevier County, No. E2005-02028-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 1946650 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 3, 2007) (holding that defendants failed to establish absence of genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered his injury more than one year before filing suit).

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.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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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.

The book is now available electronically by subscription at The new format allows us to keep the book current as new opinions are released. BirdDog Law also has John's Tennessee Law of Civil Trial and Compendium of Tennessee Tort Reform Statutes available by subscription, as well as multiple free resources to help Tennessee lawyers serve their clients

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