How are Tennessee Statutes of Limitations Applied when the Claimant is a Minor or Incompetent Person?

Posted on Nov 11 2013 10:18AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  Statutes of limitations under Tennessee law are generally governed by Tennessee statute.  A specific time period is outlined in the statute within which a cause of action must be filed after a specific event.  However, there are certain exceptions to the statute of limitations in Tennessee.  One such exception is when the person experiences “incapacity”.   T.C.A. § 28-1-106 provides that if an individual, at the time a cause of action accrues, is under 18 years of age or is adjudicated incompetent then the statute of limitations is tolled (or put on hold) under their “legal rights” are restored.  For someone who is a minor, their “legal rights” are restored at the age of 18.  Their 18th birthday begins the time period for the original statute of limitations for the cause of action.  For example, if a 15 year old minor is injured in an automobile accident, the one year statute of limitations for the personal injury action begins to run on their 18th birthday so they would have one year to file the cause of action from the date of their 18th birthday.   However, if the statute of limitations is greater than three years then they are limited to only three years from the date of their 18th birthday (the date of the restoration of their “legal rights”). 


For an individual who is adjudicated incompetent at the time the cause of action accrued, the statute of limitations begins to run from the date their “legal rights are restored” (that would be the date they became competent again).  They can therefore commence the cause of action within the original statute of limitations from the date their legal rights are restored.  They also have the same three year cap for any statute of limitations period that exceeds three years.  T.C.A. § 28-1-106 in its entirety provides as follows:


If the person entitled to commence an action is, at the time the cause of action accrued, either under eighteen (18) years of age, or adjudicated incompetent, such person, or such person's representatives and privies, as the case may be, may commence the action, after legal rights are restored, 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 restoration of legal rights.


It is important to note that for a person to take advantage of this statute they must be either a minor or adjudicated incompetent “at the time the cause of action accrued.”  This is an important requirement in the statute.  Additionally, a statute of repose is likely not negated by this statute (See Mills v. Wong, 155 S.W.3d 916, 920 (Tenn. 2005) – This Tennessee Supreme Court decision held that T.C.A. § 28-1-106 does not toll the three year statute of repose for medical malpractice causes of action in Tennessee).


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TAGS: Defenses, Tennessee Medical Malpractice/Health Care Liability, Statute of Limitations, Statute of Repose
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com