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Does Employer’s Admission of Vicarious Liability for Actions of Employee Insulate the Employer from Other Causes of Action?

Posted on Oct 22 2016 1:56PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently dealt with an issue that has not been previously discussed by Tennessee Appellate courts in Melanie Jones, Individually and on behalf of Matthew H. V. Shavonna Rachelle Windham, et al., No. W2015-00973-COA-R10-CV, 2016 WL 943722 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2016).  The question deal with the situation where an employer and employee are both sued due to the actions of the employee in causing an automobile accident (while working for the employer).  The employer, in the Answer to Complaint, admitted they were vicariously liable for the actions of the employee.  The question, therefore, was whether the plaintiff could still proceed with other claims against the employer including negligent hiring, negligent retention and negligence per se for their own independent negligent actions when they had already admitted vicarious liability for the actual accident.    

 

For some reason, the plaintiff wanted to pursue various individual cause of actions directly against the employer in this case.  Perhaps they thought it would increase the damages because the employer took actions that were inappropriate.  Interestingly, many other state courts have decided this issue and they are basically evenly split on how to handle this situation.  Thus, the Tennessee Court of Appeals went into a detailed assessment of the various positives and negatives of both avenues.  The Court ultimately held that the “an employer’s admission of vicarious liability does not bar a plaintiff from proceeding against the employer on independent claims of negligence.” Jones at 5. 

 

The Court admitted that this holding does make it necessary for trial courts to potentially guard juries from being prejudice by evidence against the employer after vicarious liability is already admitted.  As a result, the Court discussed in detail the possibility of trying to avoid that prejudice by using jury instructions or ultimately by bifurcating the proceedings under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 42.02.   This rule provides as follows: 

 

The court for convenience or to avoid prejudice may in jury trials order a separate trial of any one or more claims, cross-claims, counterclaims, or third-party claims, or issues on which a jury trial has been waived by all parties. For the same purposes the court may, in nonjury trials, order a separate trial of any one or more claims, cross-claims, counterclaims, third-party claims, or issues.


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TAGS: Torts, Employment Law, Civil Procedure Comments [0]
  
 

2016 Tennessee Statute Provides for Attorney’s Fees to Be Awarded to State When State Employee is Individually Sued Unsuccessfully Under § 1983

Posted on Oct 2 2016 6:07PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Sometimes state government employees are sued on an individual basis for actions that they took as a government employee.  Often these cases are § 1983 claims asserting the state employee acted inappropriately under the “color of law.”  However, this new statute is not limited to claims under § 1983.  In response, the Tennessee legislature felt it was necessary to provide protection to the State when the individual governmental employee is successful in defending such a claim.  As a result, the 2016 Tennessee added a provision in the law that provides that attorney’s fees and costs should be awarded to the state or the state employee when the state employee is not found to be not responsible when they are sued in their individual.  In fact, the employee is not even required to be successful on the merits, but instead, even if the case is voluntarily dismissed greater than 45 days after an Answer is filed making specific assertions, then the employee is still awarded attorney’s fees and costs.   

 

Public Chapter No. 848, which was signed into law on April 19, 2016 by Governor Bill Haslam, has been amended and now provides as follows:

 

(a) Notwithstanding § 20-12-119(c)(5)(A), if a claim is filed with a Tennessee or federal court, the Tennessee claims commission, board of claims, or any other judicial body established by the state or by a governmental entity of the state, against an employee of the state or of a governmental entity of the state in the person's individual capacity, and the claim arises from actions or omissions of the employee acting in an official capacity or under color of law, and that employee prevails in the proceeding as provided in this section, then the court or other judicial body on motion shall award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred by the employee in defending the claim filed against the employee.

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TAGS: Tennessee Tort Reform, GTLA, 2016 Tennessee Legislation, Attorney Fees Comments [0]
  
 
Author

Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com

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