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Can a Prison Inmate File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?


In the normal course of events, a person injured in a car accident or as the result of any other negligent act is able to recover a full range of damages under Tennessee law, including medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering. But what if the accident victim is a prison inmate who was injured in the course of performing a work detail? Can the prisoner seek damages if there was evidence of negligence on the part of the jail or municipality?

TN Court Rejects Coffee County Prisoner Claims

Coincidentally, the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered two separate prisoner lawsuits from Coffee County on this subject. In both cases the inmates sued the cities where they were assigned to a work detail. And in both cases, the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial judge’s order rejecting the prisoner’s claims as a matter of law.

The plaintiff in the first case is an inmate at the Coffee County Jail. According to court records, he was “performing lawn care” at a cemetery owned by the City of Tullahoma as part of a mandatory work detail. He subsequently sustained “serious and permanent injuries when a concrete gravestone fell and crushed his leg.”

The second plaintiff is also serving a sentence at the Coffee County Jail. In his case, he was assigned to a work detail in the City of Manchester. His injuries occurred when he “fell from the bed of a pickup truck” driven by another inmate under the supervision of local police.

Both plaintiffs sued the respective cities under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). The GTLA waives the sovereign immunity that the State of Tennessee and its political subdivisions–which include the city defendants in these cases–enjoy from civil liability. Normally the GTLA permits an individual to file a personal injury claim against a city the same we he or she could against a private defendant.

The problem here is that Tennessee law also expressly declares that “neither the state nor any municipality…shall be liable to any prisoner or prisoner’s family for death or injuries received while on work detail, other than for medical treatment for the injury during the period of the prisoner’s confinement.” In both of these cases, the prisoners’ medical expenses were paid. Consequently, the Court of Appeals said the prisoners were not entitled to seek any further damages, as such claims were outside the scope of the GTLA and therefore barred by sovereign immunity.

Get Advice From a Knoxville Personal Injury Attorney

It should be noted that prisoners are only restricted when seeking damages against the state or a related governmental unit. There are no such restrictions on prisoners who file personal injury claims against private parties. If you have been injured in any kind of accident, you should speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer who can apprise you of your legal rights. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton to speak with an experienced car accident negligence attorney today.




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