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January 31, 2022

Governmental Tort Liability Act

Case:   Penny Lawson et al. v. Hawkins County, TN et al.

Facts:   After a fatal road accident, Plaintiffs sued municipal Defendants for negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness in Defendants’ response to a road washout that led to Decedent’s death. The trial court dismissed the case on the grounds that claims of recklessness could not proceed under the GTLA.

Appellate Decision:   The intermediate court reversed the dismissal, holding that Plaintiffs can proceed with their claims under the GTLA. The court explained that gross negligence and recklessness are heightened forms of negligence and thus may properly be alleged in a GTLA claim.

Review Granted:   November 17, 2021.

Prediction:   Ben thinks the Supreme Court will affirm the reversal and allow the claims to proceed. Although the GTLA only removes immunity from negligent acts (and does not expressly remove immunity from gross negligence or recklessness), as the intermediate court observed, other provisions and doctrines only apply upon a showing of gross negligence or recklessness, which suggests such conduct must have already been included within the GTLA’s waiver of immunity, such that immunity remains only for intentional torts. Although the distinctions between recklessness and negligence are significant in criminal law, they are less meaningful in civil law.