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COA: personal injury action should be allowed to proceed

April 8, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals examined how the 120-day time limit under Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) on amending a complaint to substitute a party interacts with the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims, and held that the 120-day time limit can’t be allowed to operate prematurely to bar a claim when the statute of limitations is still running.

In Samuel D. Raisor, et al. v. Edward O. Carter, et al., No. 49A05-1010-CT-629, the issue was whether Samuel and Christy Raisor should have been allowed to amend their original personal injury complaint to include the correct owner of the bar where Samuel was allegedly assaulted by an underage patron. The Raisors brought the personal injury claim within the two-year statute of limitations, but made the amendment to include the correct bar owner – Jimmie’s Raceway Pub Inc. – after the 120-day time limit under T.R. 15(C). The Raisors didn’t learn who the correct owner was until 23 months after the alleged assault due to incorrect addresses and information listed for the pub owner.  

The trial court granted Jimmie’s motion to dismiss, finding the amended complaint was barred because the statute of limitations had expired by the time the amended complaint was filed and the 120-day period for amended complaints to add a new party had expired.

The appellate court reversed, finding that even though the 120-day period to amend the complaint had passed by the time the correct pub owner learned of the suit, the two-year limitation period for the personal injury action hadn’t expired. Because Jimmie’s gained actual knowledge of the lawsuit three weeks before the statute of limitations expired, the owner's defenses weren’t prejudiced, wrote Judge Terry Crone. The judge also pointed out Jimmie’s owner actually discovered the mistake before the Raisors because a mail carrier had delivered a piece of mail addressed to him to the correct address instead of the one listed on the envelope.

Judge Crone noted that T.R. 15(C) gives a party an additional 120 days to give notice of the action, so if someone filed their complaint on the last day under the statute of limitations, they would have 120 days after the expiration date to substitute a proper party defendant.

“The fact that the Raisors filed their original complaint earlier should not work to penalize them. We do not believe that the amended trial rule was designed to shorten the period of time that plaintiffs have to file their claims,” he wrote. “Simply put, where the statute of limitations is still running, the 120-day limit found in Trial Rule 15(C) cannot be permitted to operate prematurely to bar the claim.”

The Court of Appeals also found the trial court erred by denying the Raisors’ T.R. 6(B) motion to extend the T.R.15(C) notice period, but based on their ruling on the statute of limitations issue, the equitable remedy under T.R. 6(B) isn’t necessary, wrote Judge Crone. The judges remanded for further proceedings.
 

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