Suing the TN Government for Injury

If you are hurt by another person’s negligence, you can generally recover for your losses through a personal injury lawsuit. But what happens when you are injured and the responsible party is a government entity?

It is possible to file a claim against the state of Tennessee or a local government in a personal injury claim. However, because government agencies generally enjoy a legal protection known as sovereign immunity, you must follow specific procedures in order to file a claim.

Personal injury lawsuits against the TN government are complicated and can be difficult to pursue. A skilled Winchester personal injury lawyer can help you with the process, starting with a free consultation, where you can learn about your rights and options for filing a claim.

When Can the State of Tennessee Be Sued?

In the United States, government entities enjoy protection from civil and criminal liability through a concept known as sovereign immunity. Generally, sovereign immunity means that the government cannot be sued without its consent.

In Tennessee, claims against the state government are permitted through the Tennessee Claims Commission Act.  This law allows individuals to sue the state for claims based on negligence on the part of a state agency or one of its employees, including:

  • Negligent operation or any motor vehicle;
  • Nuisances created or maintained;
  • Negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state property;
  • Legal or medical malpractice;
  • Negligent care, custody, and control of persons;
  • Negligent care, custody, and control of personal property;
  • Negligent care, custody, and control of animals;
  • Negligent construction of state sidewalks and buildings;
  • Negligence in planning, inspection, design and approval of plans for public roads, highways, bridges and other infrastructure;
  • Dangerous conditions on state-maintained highways; 
  • Negligent operation of machinery or equipment; and
  • Negligent deprivation of statutory rights.

This law effectively waives sovereign immunity for the state of Tennessee for claims related to the acts or omissions of state employees. As a result, people who have been injured by something that a state employee or agency did – or failed to do – may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the state of Tennessee.

Similarly, the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (TGTLA) allows injury victims to sue local governments for their losses in specific situations. Specifically, this law allows lawsuits for claims based on negligence, including the negligent operation of motor vehicles or other equipment, dangerous conditions on streets and highways, negligent acts or omissions of employees, and dangerous structures.

To hold the government liable for a personal injury, you must prove three elements:

  1. The employee’s act or omission was negligent and the proximate cause of the plaintiff (injury victim)’s injury;
  2. The employee acted within the scope of their employment; and
  3. No exception to liability applies.

Importantly, the government is immune from personal injury lawsuits in cases where an injury arose out of a discretionary function. In other words, the discretionary function exception limits the government’s liability in cases where the government employee in question did something – or failed to do something – as part of the discretionary aspect of their job. An example of a discretionary function would be a government agency deciding to not build an overpass – as compared to a non-discretionary governmental function, such as maintaining state roads.

These types of claims can arise in a number of situations, For example, if a state government employee causes a motor vehicle accident while on duty, the injury victims may pursue financial compensation from the state for their losses. Alternatively, if you are in a car crash that was caused by dangerous conditions on a highway controlled by the state, you could pursue a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission.

Filing a Claim Against TN for Personal Injury

The process for suing the Tennessee government for injury is different from other types of negligence claims. Typically, if you are injured by another person’s negligence, then your personal injury attorney will send a demand letter to their insurance company. From there, the parties will either negotiate a settlement, or the case will go to trial.

By contrast, personal injury claims involving the State of Tennessee must be filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission. If an injury victim is successful before the Claims Commission – which functions like a court – then they can recover monetary damages against the state. However, the damages that can be recovered are limited by law to $300,000 per person and $1,000,000 per occurrence. Punitive damages are not available in claims against the government.

Claims against the state must be filed using the online portal for the Claims Commission. By law, these claims must be reviewed, evaluated and a decision must be made regarding the sufficiency of proof within 90 days.

There are strict time limits for filing a claim against the TN government. The initial claim must be filed within a one-year statute of limitations. If you receive an unfavorable decision, you have just 90 days to file an appeal.

Personal injury lawsuits involving local governments can be filed in a local circuit court where the injury arose. The same one-year time limit applies to TGTLA claims. As with other types of personal injury lawsuits, you may be able to recover compensation for your past medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and related losses (subject to the damages cap for claims against a governmental entity).

Is It Possible to Sue the State of Tennessee?

Yes. Under Tennessee law, both state and local government agencies can be sued in certain situations. If you have been injured due to the negligence of a government employee or entity, then you may be able to file a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission or through a personal injury lawsuit.

These types of claims can be complex, as they are subject to different rules than typical personal injury cases. An experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney can help you through the process, starting with a free initial consultation.

How Do You File a Monetary Claim Against the State of Tennessee?

To make a claim against the TN government, you must give notice to the Tennessee Department of Treasury by filing a claim through its online portal. An initial claim must be made within the one-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Depending on the type of claim, you may be required to provide proof that the state was negligent in some way (such as by failing to fix a dangerous road condition).

If you have been injured in any type of accident and believe that the government of TN may be responsible, reach out to a Tennessee personal injury law firm as soon as possible. A skilled lawyer can advise you on your legal rights and ensure that your claim is properly filed.

Can I Get Punitive Damages Against the TN Government?

No. While Tennessee allows injury victims to file a claim against governmental entities in limited situations, the state has capped damages in these types of claims to $300,000 per person or $1,000,000 per incident. Punitive damages – which are meant to penalize a wrongdoer for intentional or reckless conduct – are not permitted for claims against the government.

Although you cannot recover punitive damages in a claim against the TN government, you can still get compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. Contact a Tennessee personal injury attorney to schedule a free consultation about your potential claim.

How We Can Help

Filing a claim against the TN government can be a challenging process. Our law firm understands how these types of cases work – and will fight for your right to fair compensation.

John R. Colvin, Attorney at Law, is dedicated to helping injury victims throughout Tennessee who have been hurt through the negligence of another person or entity – including the government. With more than 25 years of experience, we have the knowledge and skills to get you the money that you deserve for your injuries. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a Tennessee personal injury lawyer, call our law office at 877-771-8644 or fill out our online contact form.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama