GARY L. WATTS AND JANET WATTS, Parents And Next Friends of CLINTON D. WATTS, Deceased v. EARNESTINE J. MORRIS, ET AL. (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2009)
This case arises from the death of a graduate student near the University of Memphis. while crossing the street, decedent was struck by a vehicle. Decedent's parents, on his behalf, have sued the City of Memphis, pursuant to the Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging that the City negligently maintained the defective, unsafe, or dangerous street that decedent was crossing. The trial court held that Plaintiffs failed to prove that the Governmental Tort Liability Act waived the City of Memphis' immunity from suit or that the City of Memphis was negligent. In addition, the court found that both the decedent and the driver of the automobile that struck decedent were negligent and were each 50% at fault for the accident. We affirm on the basis that Plaintiffs failed to prove that the street was a defective, unsafe, or dangerous condition for which the City's immunity was waived.
"In its answer to the suit filed by Plaintiffs, the City asserted several affirmative defenses, including that it was immune from suit pursuant to the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) and the comparative fault of the driver. City failed to assert that the decedent or the University of Memphis were comparatively negligent. The parties stipulated that pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-20-37 the City of Memphis is not subject to trial by jury for actions brought under the GTLA. The City moved to amend its original answer to plead the comparative fault of the University of Memphis which the trial court denied. the City also filed a post-trial motion to amend its original answer seeking to include the comparative fault of the decedent. Because it was found that the fault of the decedent was at issue during pre-trial discovery and was tried by the parties without objection, the trial court granted this motion to amend pusuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.02" Id.
"Subsequently the trial court entered its findings of facts and conclusions of law. First, it held that the GTLA did not waive the City's governmental immunity. In addition, the trial court determined that the Plaintiffs failed to prove that the City was negligent because there was insufficient evidence 1) that the City breached it's duty of care, 2) that "but for" the City's action or inaction the decedent's injuries would not have occurred, and 3) that the City's action or inaction was the legal cause of the decedent's injuries. The trial court also opined that the City had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that both the driver of the vehicle and the decedent were negligent and found that each were 50% at fault for the accident." Id.
"Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-20-201, government entities are immune from liability unless a plaintiff demonstrates that his claim is one of the specific causes of action for which the legislature removes immunity. Here Plaintiffs specifically allege that the City is liable pursuant to GTLA Section 203, which removes governmental immunity for "any injury caused by a defective, unsafe, or dangerous condition of any sgtreet, alley, sidewalk, of highway." TCA section 29-20-203(a) (2000). The trial court held and the Court of Appeals affirmed that the section of roadway at issue was not in a defective, unsafe, or dangerous condition on the date of the accident, therefore the City had not breached it's duty of care." Id.
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