Analysis: The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Alisa Leigh Eldrige v. Lee Savage, No. M2012-00973-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 6757941 (Tenn. Ct. App. December 28, 2012) discussed when fraudulent concealment can extend the statute of limitations for a cause of action. This case concerned an allegation that the seller of a home fraudulently concealed fire damage in the sale of the home to the plaintiff purchaser. Eldrige at 1, 2. The plaintiff alleged the defendant negligently or intentionally misrepresented the fire damage by making false statements of fact about the extent of the damage and subsequent repairs made to the home. Eldrige at 2. The original sale transaction of the home occurred in 1994 and the lawsuit was not brought until 2010. Eldrige at 1. The plaintiff asserted she did not discover the extensive fire damage until 2010. Eldrige at 1.
One of the questions in this case was whether the doctrine of “fraudulent concealment” applied to toll the statute of limitations. Eldrige at 2. Generally, the doctrine of fraudulent concealment applies "to circumstances in which the defendant purposefully engages in conduct intended to conceal the plaintiff's injury from the plaintiff." Eldrige at 4. The Tennessee Court of Appeals found that a plaintiff who invokes the doctrine of fraudulent concealment must allege and prove four specific elements as follows:
(1) that the defendant affirmatively concealed the plaintiff's injury or the identity of the wrongdoer or failed to disclose material facts regarding the injury or the wrongdoer despite a duty to do so;
(2) that the plaintiff could not have discovered the injury or the identity of the wrongdoer despite reasonable care and diligence;
(3) that the defendant knew that the plaintiff had been injured and the identity of the wrongdoer; and
(4) that the defendant concealed material information from the plaintiff by withholding information or making use of some device to mislead the plaintiff in order to exclude suspicion or prevent inquiry.
Eldrige at 4 (citing Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436, 462 – 463 (Tenn. 2012)). If these elements are established then "the statute of limitations is tolled until the plaintiff discovers or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered the defendant's fraudulent concealment or sufficient facts to put the plaintiff on actual or inquiry notice of his or hear claim." Eldrige at 5. Once the plaintiff discovers facts sufficient to discover the alleged fraudulent concealment then the original statute of limitations time period begins to run and suit must be brought within that statute of limitations time period. Eldrige at 5.
In the Eldrige case the Court found the plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) that the “fraudulent concealment” exception to the statute of limitations should apply in this case. Eldrige at 5, 6.