Adding Additional Defendants and the Relation Back Rule in Motorcycle Accident Personal Injury Lawsuits

A motorcycle accident personal injury lawsuit before a West Virginia district court offers an informative overview of the requirements necessary to add additional defendants at some future time following the filing of a lawsuit.

In the case, YANCHAK v. Lindh, Dist. Court, ND W. Va. (2012) the plaintiffs, a husband and wife, filed suit in state court in July 2010 following an accident in July 2008, in which the husband who had been riding his motorcycle was hit by a car owned by the husband of the woman who collided into the plaintiff. The complaint alleged negligence on behalf of the driver wife, and a failure to exercise due care while driving the car owned by her husband.

The plaintiffs claimed that, as a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered severe and permanent injuries, and that his wife suffered loss of consortium, as well as severe emotional distress in witnessing the injuries of her husband. The plaintiffs also claimed that defendant owner of the car had negligently entrusted his wife with the control of his automobile at the time of the accident. The defendants removed the case to federal court in November of 2010.

In November of 2011, the plaintiffs reached a settlement with the defendants, and learned that the defendant may have been acting within the scope of her employment, since she was driving on her way to a meeting for work. The plaintiffs thus sought a leave to amend the complaint, adding the defendant’s employer as a co-defendant, and seeking a dismissal of the prior husband and wife defendants.

In December of 2011, the employer filed a motion to dismiss, stating that the statute of limitations had already passed. The plaintiffs argued that they could not have added the employer at an earlier time, because the defendants had moved out of the country, and they thus only learned of the potential employer’s liability as a result of the deposition that occurred in October of 2011. The plaintiffs also argued that the employer was on notice of the lawsuit because the original defendant had notified them that she had been involved in an accident on the way to her meeting, and that she might be late as a result. Thus, the plaintiffs argued that the court should implement the relation back doctrine, which would allow for them to relate the claim against the employer to the date of the original complaint, which was within the statute of limitations.

The employer argued that the plaintiffs failed to satisfy the elements necessary to satisfy the relation back doctrine, and the court ultimately agreed. Specifically, it stated that “[m]ere ignorance of the existence of a cause of action or of the identity of the wrongdoer does not prevent the running of the statute of limitations.” In order for the rule to apply, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there has been some action on behalf of the defendants which prevented the plaintiff from discovering the truth earlier.

Additionally, in order for the rule to apply, the employer had to have received formal notice of the action within the period provided by federal statute, and had to have reason to know that the action would have been brought against it. The original defendant, having made a phone call stating that she might be late due to an automobile accident, did not meet the notice requirement under the relevant rule. A formal notice had to have been served within 120 days of the original complaint, in order for this exception to be applicable.

Furthermore, the court held that the argument that the plaintiffs could not have known the potential claim existed against the employer earlier because the defendants had moved abroad was unpersuasive, as the eventual deposition was conducted telephonically, and there was no evidence to indicate that it couldn’t have been arranged earlier.

Therefore, the court granted the employer defendant’s motion to dismiss, ending the lawsuit.

In addition to broadly demonstrating the various elements of adding additional defendants, this lawsuit also provides an excellent illustration of the importance of not waiting until the last minute to file your personal injury lawsuit. According to the decision, the initial complaint was only filed just four days prior to the end of the two year statute of limitations in the relevant jurisdiction.

Generally speaking, Maryland’s statute of limitations for personal injury actions is three years, but there are several factors that can affect this, and it is therefore in your best interests to consult with an attorney as soon as possible, in order to ensure that your lawsuit is not filed at the last minute.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact the experienced Maryland motorcycle accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing motorcyclists and their passengers who have been injured or killed due to another driver’s negligence. Call us today in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation by calling 1-800-654-1949, or through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Federal District Court Rules on Remand to State Court Following Successful Joinder of Defendant’s Employer in Respondeat Superior Claim Arising out of Motorcycle Accident, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 12, 2013
The Importance of Testifying at Your Motorcycle Accident Trial, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 5, 2013

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