§78.5 Limitation of Actions – Death of a Minor

The Case: Lemons v. Cloer , 206 S.W.3d 60 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).

The Basic Facts: Parents of children killed in bus wreck filed wrongful death claims. Defendants asserted statute of limitations defense as to the claims asserted on behalf of two of the children, both of which were filed more than one year after the wreck.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The last issue we must resolve is whether the trial court erred in holding that the wrongful death claims brought on behalf of Daniel Pack and Kayla Silvers are barred by the one-year personal injury statute of limitations. The relevant facts are these. The collision occurred on March 28, 2000. The wrongful death claims of two of the three children killed in the collision, Pack and Silvers, were filed by their respective parents, Cynthia Sluder and Jimmy Silvers, in June, 2003, as were the personal injury claims of three of the other children injured in the accident. The School District filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that all of these claims were barred by the applicable one-year statute of limitations. In September, 2004, the trial court granted the School District partial summary judgment pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 54.02, concluding that the Sluder and Silvers wrongful death claims are barred by the statute of limitations found at Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104, and that the claims were not tolled by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106. The School District's motion for summary judgment was denied as to the personal injury claims asserted on behalf of these three children injured in the accident." 206 S.W.3d at 69-70.
  • "Sluder and Silvers argue that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment with respect to their actions because, according to them, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106 allowed them to bring suit up to one year after their child's emancipation would have taken place, had they lived. First, it is important to note that 'our courts have uniformly applied the one-year statute of limitation contained in § 28-3-104 governing actions for personal injuries to actions for wrongful death.' Collier v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div., 657 S.W.2d 771, 774 (Tenn. Ct. App.1983) (citing Jones v. Black, 539 S.W.2d 123 (Tenn. 1976)). Furthermore, in Jordan v. Baptist Three Rivers Hosp., 984 S.W.2d 593 (Tenn. 1999), the Supreme Court held that, in wrongful death actions, the 'pecuniary value of a decedent's life includes the element of damages commonly referred to as loss of consortium.' Id. at 595. In other words, loss of consortium-type damages 'do[ ] not create a new cause of action but merely refine[ ] the term 'pecuniary value.'' Id. at 601. Thus, the one-year statute of limitations period also applies to the loss of consortium aspect of the wrongful death claim. See Hancock v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hosp. Auth., 54 S.W.3d 234, 237 (Tenn.2001)." Id. at 70.
  • "Plaintiffs Sluder and Silvers assert that, since their children were minors at the time of their death, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106 tolls the statute of limitations until one year after the children would have reached the age of 18 years. Section 28-1-106 provides as follows:
    If the person entitled to commence an action is, at the time the cause of action accrued, either within the age of eighteen (18) years, or of unsound mind, such person, or such person's representatives and privies, as the case may be, may commence the action, after the removal of such disability, within the time of limitation for the particular cause of action, unless it exceeds three (3) years, and in that case within three (3) years from the removal of such disability.
    Id.
  • "Because the statute of limitations begins to run, under the statute, as soon as the disability is removed, it is 'most important to determine when the disability is removed.' Collier, 657 S.W.2d at 774. Collier is a complete answer on this issue because it specifically holds that, even after considering the potential tolling effect of § 28-1-106, a deceased minor's next of kin is required to file a wrongful death action within one year from the date of death of the minor. Id. at 773-74. In making this determination, this Court relied upon Justice Brock's dissenting opinion in Jones v. Black, in which he said the following:
    The death of a person under disability removes the disability and sets the statute to running; thus, if a person under a disability, such as the deceased mother in this case, had a cause of action for personal injuries, that action must be commenced within one year after his or her death.
    Collier, 657 S.W.2d at 774 (quoting Jones v. Black, 539 S.W.2d at 126) (Brock, J., dissenting). Sluder and Silvers brought their wrongful death claims more than three years after the death of their minor children. Because Tennessee's one-year statute of limitations applies to these claims, and because Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106 does not have the effect of tolling the limitations period, the trial court correctly dismissed the Sluder and Silvers claims." Id. at 70-71.

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.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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