Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act governs how and when government agencies can be held liable for torts that may occur on their property or that have been committed by their employees. Under the GTLA, government agencies are generally immune from suit when injuries result from the government doing its job, unless certain exceptions apply. One of those exceptions is for negligent acts or omissions of government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Recently, a prisoner brought a Tennessee injury case to determine whether cities and counties in Tennessee are liable for injuries that occur on prisoner work details.
In this recent case, S.E. was serving a sentence at the Coffee County jail in Tennessee, where he was assigned to a work detail that involved cleaning up public properties in the City of Manchester, Tennessee. S.E. fell off a pickup truck while on the job and injured his head. He sued both the City of Manchester and Coffee County for his injuries, medical expenses, and damages. Coffee County settled with S.E., but S.E. continued to pursue claims against the City of Manchester. In response, the City moved to dismiss S.E.’s complaint, arguing that it was immune from liability under the GTLA. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. S.E. appealed.
On appeal, S.E. argued that under the exception to the GTLA for negligent acts by employees, the City was not immune from liability because a police officer with the City of Manchester was supervising the work detail at the time. The City countered by pointing to Tennessee Statute 41-2-123(d)(2), which provides that states, municipalities, and their employees are not liable to prisoners or a prisoner’s family for death or injuries sustained on work detail, other than for medical treatment due to the injury while the prisoner is in prison. Here, medical treatment had been provided to S.E. after his injury, and the City took the position that it was not liable for any additional claims. In response, S.E. argued that the GTLA took precedence over the statute identified by the City. After reviewing the two statutes, the Court of Appeals disagreed.