Where plaintiff wife failed to give written notice of her loss of consortium claim against the State of Tennessee to the Division of Claims and Risk Management, dismissal of her claim was affirmed, despite the fact that her complaint was filed with the Claims Commission within the statute of limitations.
In Kampmeyer v. State, No. M2019-01196-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Jan. 13, 2022), plaintiff husband was seriously injured when his car crashed into a state-owned vehicle that had been parked on a highway. Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-402, which applies to certain claims against the State, husband gave written notice of his claim for damages to the Division of Claims and Risk Management (Division of Claims). When the Division of Claims took no action within 90 days, husband filed a complaint with the Claims Commission. This complaint was filed just under one year after the car accident, and instead of only including husband’s claims, it also included a loss of consortium claim from plaintiff wife.
Defendant State filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that dismissal was warranted as to plaintiff wife because she had failed to give written notice of her claim to the Division of Claims. The Claims Commission agreed and dismissed wife’s claim, and dismissal was affirmed by the Court of Appeals and in this opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
While plaintiff wife admitted that she did not give written notice to the Division of Claims, she argued that her complaint filed with the Claims Commission was sufficient to satisfy the statutory requirements. Plaintiff asserted that “the relationship between the Claims Commission and the Division is such that the Claims Commission complaint provided notice to the Division,” and she relied on Hunter v. State, No. 01-A-01-9210-BC00425, 1993 WL 133240 (Tenn. Ct. App. April 28. 1993) for this proposition. The Tennessee Supreme Court, however, rejected this argument and expressly overruled the Hunter decision.
The Claims Commission Act sets forth a procedure to be followed for certain claims against the State. Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-402, which is part of the Act, states that “[t]he claimant must give written notice to the Division of Claims and Risk Management as a condition precedent to recovery.” As this analysis hinged on statutory interpretation, the Court noted that “the General Assembly could have added language to section 9-8-402(a)(1) stating that claimants can give written notice of claims to either the Division of Claims and Risk Management or the Claims Commission,” but it “chose not to do so.” The Supreme Court found no conflict between the requirement to give written notice to the Division of Claims and the exclusive jurisdiction conferred onto the Claims Commission, and it found no support for plaintiff’s argument that the Claims Commission was required by statute or practice to transfer the loss of consortium claim to the Division of Claims.
The Court concluded:
Ultimately, our decision must rest on the text of Tennessee Code Annotated § 9-8-402(a)(1). It plainly requires claimants to give written notice of their claim ‘to the division of claims and risk management as a condition precedent to recovery.’ The statute does not provide claimants the option of giving written notice to the Claims Commission. …Reading the text of the statute naturally and reasonably, we must conclude that [plaintiff wife] was required to give written notice of her consortium claim to the Division of Claims and Risk Management in order to recover in this case. She failed to do so. For that reason, we affirm.
(internal citation omitted). Dismissal was therefore affirmed.
This case makes clear that written notice of a claim against the State must be sent to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. Simply filing a complaint with the Claims Commission within the limitations period will not be deemed sufficient to comply with this statutory requirement.
This opinion was released 8.5 months after oral arguments.
Note: Chapter 98, Section 7 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.
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