Recently, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from an incident where a man totaled his vehicle when a trench underneath a road split and caused the asphalt to crumble. The man and his wife filed a lawsuit against the City, alleging personal injuries and property damage and loss of consortium. In response, the City purported that the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) provided them with immunity from the lawsuit. The plaintiffs averred that the Tennessee Code section 29-20-203 removed their immunity. However, the trial court found in favor of the City, reasoning that the plaintiffs did not establish that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the road’s dangerous condition.
In this case, the inquiry focuses on whether the City maintains immunity through the GTLA. Generally, local governmental entities are immune from Tennessee injury lawsuits, except in cases defined by statute or explicitly permitted by the General Assembly. The dispute at issue arises from section 29-20-203, which removes immunity for injuries resulting from a “defective, unsafe, or dangerous condition” of roadways owned and controlled by the governmental entity. However, plaintiffs asserting this exception must prove that the defendant had “actual or constructive” knowledge of the condition.
In this case, the plaintiffs presented evidence of a work order that shows that the trench at issue was inspected a day before the accident and that the City determined that it needed to be replaced. However, the City argued that regardless of the work order, the plaintiffs did not present any other evidence that the road was defective or dangerous. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that although they did not present opposing affidavits to the City’s motion for summary judgment, procedural rules do not demand this. Instead, when responding, the plaintiffs must present evidence that could lead a trier of fact to find in their favor.