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July 03, 2014

Comparative Fault in Claims Commission Cases

CaseRichard Moreno v. City of Clarksville

Issue: When a plaintiff timely files a claim against the State, and the State alleges fault by another government entity after the statute of limitations has run, may the plaintiff sue the additional entity?

Facts: Plaintiff filed a timely claim against the State with the Division of Claims Administration. Upon DCA’s inaction, the claim was automatically transferred to the Claims Commission, and Plaintiff filed a new complaint there. When the State alleged comparative fault against the City, the Plaintiff sued the City in circuit court, to which the claim against the State was transferred for consolidation. The City filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the suit against it in circuit court was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court dismissed the suit against the City, and the Plaintiff appealed.

Appellate Decision: The intermediate court ruled in favor of Plaintiff and reversed the dismissal. Pursuant to T.C.A. § 20-1-119, plaintiffs have 90 days to add additional defendants when comparative fault is asserted against them by an original defendant, notwithstanding the statute of limitations. Although the complaints filed in the Claims Commission and circuit court exceeded the statute of limitations, the intermediate court held that the timely filing in the Division of Claims Administration was the “original complaint” for purposes of invoking the 90-day extension provided by § 20-1-119.

Review Granted: June 24, 2014.

Prediction: Ben believes the Supreme Court will hold in favor of Plaintiff and affirm. A contrary result would frustrate the comparative fault regime and is not inconsistent with the law and policy behind the GTLA and Claims Commission Act.