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Topic: GTLA

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]

Tennessee Removes Sovereign Immunity for Claims Against Tennessee Governmental Entities Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act

Posted on Jun 8 2014 6:36PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  I am working on several blog posts to try to update everyone on important Tennessee Legislative changes that came out of the 2014 Tennessee Legislative session.  These posts will touch on various topics and will be published over the next few months.  One change from the recent session is the removal of sovereign immunity for Tennessee governmental entities for claims against those entities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”).  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is found in 38 USC §§ 4301-4334.  Basically, this federal legislation strengthens military veteran’s reemployment rights when they are required to serve in a war.  This has always been an important principle to protect in America and has been protected by numerous statutes over the years.  Basically, soldiers who fight in wars for this country should not lose their jobs because they had to fight in a war.


Under Tennessee law, however, governmental entities are provided with sovereign immunity under many circumstances.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 29-20-201(a) is one of the statutes (there are others) that addresses sovereign immunity and provides as follows:


(a) Except as may be otherwise provided in this chapter, all governmental entities shall be immune from suit for any injury which may result from the activities of such governmental entities wherein such governmental entities are engaged in the exercise and discharge of any of their functions, governmental or proprietary.

(b)(1) The general assembly finds and declares that the services of governmental entity boards, commissions, authorities and other governing agencies are critical to the efficient conduct and management of the public affairs of the citizens of this state. Complete and absolute immunity is req...

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TAGS: 2014 Tennessee Legislation, GTLA, Employment Law, Immunity Comments [0]

In Tennessee One Year Healthcare Liability Action Statute of Limitations is Not Extended by Pre-Suit Notice When Dealing with GTLA Lawsuit

Posted on Apr 6 2014 8:42PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  Last year the Tennessee Supreme Court decided another important case that interprets the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”) in conjunction with other Tennessee statutes.  In this case the Tennessee Supreme Court found that the 120 day extension of time to file a healthcare liability action (formerly medical malpractice cause of action) when pre-suit notice is provided does not apply to GTLA lawsuits.  The Tennessee Supreme Court in Walton Cunningham v. Williamson County Hospital District et al, 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013) dealt with a medical malpractice claim that was filed 15 months after the claim accrued at the time of the death.  The plaintiffs relied upon T.C.A. § 29-26-121 that provides a 120 day extension of time beyond the one year statute of limitations to file suit after pre-suit notice is provided under the statute.  The pertinent part of T.C.A. § 29-26-121 provides as follows:


(c) When notice is given to a provider as provided in this section, the applicable statutes of limitations and repose shall be extended for a period of one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of expiration of the statute of limitations and statute of repose applicable to that provider...


The question in this case therefore was whether the extension found in T.C.A. § 29-26-121 applies to a GTLA healthcare liability claim (essentially a medical malpractice case against a governmental entity).  The statute of limitations for a GTLA claim is one year as explicitly provided in T.C.A. § 29-20-305(b) which provides as follows:


(b) The action must be commenced within twelve (12) months after the cause of action arises.


As a result, there is a conflict between the SOL of 12 months for a GTLA claim and 12 months + 120 days (with pre-suit notice) in the healthcare liability statute.  The GTLA is a specific statute where the government waives immunity in certain limited circumstances.  However, “because waiver of immunity is in derogation of the common law, any claim for damages brought under the GTLA must be in stri...

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TAGS: GTLA, Tennessee Medical Malpractice/Health Care Liability, Statute of Limitations, Statute of Repose Comments [0]

Do the Health Care Liability Action pre-suit notice requirements and tolling provisions found in T.C.A. § 29-26-122 apply to a GTLA (Governmental Tort Liability Act) case in Tennessee?

Posted on Mar 24 2013 9:21PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  In a Tennessee GTLA Health Care Liability Action, the statute of limitations tolling provisions found in T.C.A. § 29-26-121 for the pre-suit notice requirements do not apply.  A Health Care Liability Action brought under the GTLA must therefore be filed within the one year statute of limitations with no tolling available under this statute.


Analysis:  In Betty Lou Lawing v. Greene County EMS, No. E2011-01201-COA-R9-CV, 2012 WL 6562155 (Tenn. Ct. App. December 17, 2012) the Tennessee Court of Appeals discussed the Health Care Liability Action (Medical Malpractice) pre-suit notice requirements and their applicability in a GTLA case (the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act can be found in T.C.A. § 29-20-101 et seq.).  In the Lawing case there was an alleged medical malpractice event on July 8, 2009 that resulted in an injury.  Notice pursuant to T.C.A. § 29-26-121 was provided on July 2nd, 2010, which was within the one year statute of limitations.  The lawsuit was then filed on October 27, 2010, outside of the one year statute of limitations but within the 120 day tolling provision contained in T.C.A. § 29-26-121 (the statute provides a 120 day extension of the one year statute of limitations when notice is provided to the opposing party within the one year statute of limitations).  The question, therefore, was whether the plaintiff could take advantage of the tolling provisions found in T.C.A. § 29-26-121 for this Health Care Liability Action brought under the GTLA.


The Tennessee Supreme Court has previously held that claims against governmental entities “must be brought in strict compliance with the GTLA, and that our courts have thus held that the savings statute as well as joinder provisions in the comparative fault statute do not operate to extend the statute of limitations in the GTLA because the legislature did not expressly provide that they would apply to claims under the GTLA”.  Lawing at 2 (citing Lynn v. City of Jackson, 63 S.W.3d 332 (Tenn. 2001); Daniel v. Hardin County General Hospital, 971 S.W.2d 21 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997)) (Note that T.C.A. § 20-1-119 was amended by the legislature in 1999 after the Daniel decision to explicitly apply the comparative fault joinder provisions to GTLA cases – however it took a specific act of the Tennessee legislature to make this clear as required under the GTLA).

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TAGS: Tennessee Comparative Fault, Defenses, GTLA, Tennessee Medical Malpractice/Health Care Liability, Savings Statute, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure Comments [0]

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
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com