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Fire Claim Difficulties Show Need for Skilled Attorney

In the legal world, one of the most important things to do is to make sure that all necessary documents are submitted to the court, and the opposing party, in a timely manner. The procedural aspect of the legal process has many deadlines that need to be met. The result of not meeting these deadlines could lead to the end of a litigation with no chance of bringing the same claim before court.

In Tapp v. Shaw Environmental Inc., we see an example of the results of waiting until the very last second to bring a claim against parties. Tapp, the plaintiff, brought a claim against a number of sellers and manufacturers of trailers. The basis of the complaint was a fire that occurred, in the trailer, on February 27, 2007. The statute of limitations, the time within which a claim could be brought for this event, was one year. Tapp waited until the very last minute to file a complaint on February 26, 2008. The complaint was literally filed on the very last day under the statute of limitations. On a later date, after the time period to bring the claim had passed, Tapp realized that there were other defendants that should have been added to the original complaint. The problem was that Tapp could not simply file a complaint against these new defendants. Tapp needed to add these defendants by a provision within the federal rules of civil procedure called “relation back.” The “relation back” procedure is like adding defendants to the original complaint as if they were actually on the original complaint. The purpose is to allow plaintiffs to add defendants even if the statute of limitation has expired. The federal rules of civil procedure explain that if the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out in the original complaint, and if there are new defendants, that these defendants are notified and added in the amendment within 120 days after the filing of the original complaint. This provision of civil procedure is a last second, last chance, opportunity to add new defendants. It is by no means the most efficient or effective way of adding defendants to a case.

The complaint filed against the first newly added defendant was filed on June 13, 2008. This defendant executed a waiver of summons on June 25, 2008, which was exactly 120 days after the filing of the original complaint. The Court ruled that, as to this defendant, the federal rules of civil procedure requirements for adding a defendant post-expiration of the statute of limitation had been met. Thus, this defendant was properly added onto the original February 26, 2007 complaint. Another amended complaint was filed adding another defendant on August 8, 2008. Using the same “relation back” procedure, the Court ruled that this newly added defendant was added outside the 120-day period allowed by federal civil procedure. Therefore, this defendant was not added to the case, and thus the plaintiff could seek no relief from this defendant for this claim. Tapp lucked out because at least one of the new defendants was added to the case. However, as this case clearly demonstrates, it is essential that claims are brought as soon as possible within the statute of limitation period, so that if anything needs to be done within the period, it can be done while time still remains to take action.

It is essential that if you have a claim, or your think you have a claim, you should seek the advice of legal counsel as soon as possible so that time does not run out on your ability to take any kind of action on your claim.

If you think you have a claim, or you have been injured in any way, contact the Berniard Law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help.