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Friday, July 16, 2021

New Case on the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act: Liability Based on Negligence, Gross Negligence, Recklessness, and Exceptions to the Public Duty Doctrine Save the Day; Trial Court's Dismissal Reversed on Appeal

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion in Lawson v. Hawkins County, No. E2020-01529-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 14, 2021.  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This appeal arises from litigation concerning a fatal road accident. Steven W. Lawson [] , by and through his wife, Penny Lawson, and on behalf of Corey Lawson, Decedent’s child . . . , sued the Hawkins County Emergency Communications District Board [] , Hawkins County, Tennessee and Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency . . .  in the Circuit Court for Hawkins County . . . alleging negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness in Defendants’ response to a road washout that led to Decedent’s death. Plaintiffs specifically alleged nepotism in Defendants’ hiring practices and a failure to train. Defendants filed motions for judgment on the pleadings, which the Trial Court granted partly on grounds that claims of recklessness could not proceed against the Defendant entities under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“the GTLA”). Plaintiffs appeal. We hold that Plaintiffs could, in fact, proceed with their claims of recklessness and gross negligence under the GTLA, and the facts pled by Plaintiffs were sufficient to state claims based upon recklessness and gross negligence. We hold further that, based on the facts alleged at this stage, the third special duty exception to the public duty doctrine applies so as to remove Defendants’ immunity. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court. 

Here is a link to the opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/penny_lawson_v._hawkins_county_coa_opinion.pdf.

NOTE: This is a good opinion for any judge or lawyer who has a case governed by the GTLA.  


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