Immunity From The Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act for Discretionary Actions

Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, states and governments are often immune from liability and cannot be sued in state or federal courts. Similarly, many states have enacted governmental tort liability acts that provide immunity to governmental entities and actors within a state, such as local police departments and school districts. Tennessee has the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (TGTLA), which sets forth the circumstances under which a governmental entity can and cannot be sued. In a recent case before the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, the court took a look at when immunity applies to discretionary actions performed by a school district.

In Guthrie v. Rutherford County, Linda Guthrie sued Rutherford County after she incurred an injury while working at a local school. While walking in a common hallway at the school, Guthrie ran into two sixth grade boys who were playing around in the hallway. One of the boys pushed the other into Guthrie, and she fell and was injured. Her wrist and hip were fractured, and she was forced to take substantial time off from work. Not long afterward, Guthrie filed suit against the County, alleging that it owed her a duty of care and failed to meet that duty because its agents (school employees) were not properly supervising students in the hallways. According to Guthrie, this lack of supervision led to the student roughhousing and caused her fall.

Although counties are typically immune from suit under the TGTLA, Guthrie argued that her case fell within an exception regarding when injuries are caused by the “negligent actions of individuals under control” of the County. In response, the County took the position that even if the actions were negligent, they were discretionary and not under the County’s control. The trial court agreed and found that the County was immune because decisions about supervision were discretionary acts. Guthrie appealed.

Under the TGTLA, government entities are generally immune from suit for injuries that result from their actions. However, immunity does not attach when the injury results from negligent acts by employees within the scope of their employment, unless the injury results from the exercise of or failure to exercise a discretionary function. Discretionary acts have not been strictly defined, but they involve acts that arise from planning or policy making decisions and are not merely operational. In Tennessee, decisions about how to monitor classes or students have previously been held to be discretionary functions. Here, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that school policies about how to monitor students are discretionary, and the monitoring of students is a discretionary act. Accordingly, even if the school had acted negligently in failing to supervise students, which the court of appeals also concluded it had not, the County was entitled to immunity for these discretionary actions. The court of appeals affirmed the lower court.

When considering lawsuits against governmental entities or employees, one of the first issues to determine must be whether the governmental actors are entitled to immunity under state law. In Tennessee, this is likely to be the case unless you can establish that one of the exceptions to the TGTLA applies. Tennessee premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can guide you in evaluating any immunity problems that you are likely to encounter and help you strategize on how to overcome them. For more information on seeking redress and compensation for your injuries, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Immunity From Personal Injury Claims for Contractors – Black v. Dixie, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 7, 2016.

Waiver of Medical Malpractice Claims Against Tennessee State Employees, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 26, 2016.

Immunity from Personal Injury for Tennessee Ski Resorts, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 27, 2016.

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