Where a plaintiff’s negligence claim against a city was based on a Tennessee city’s failure to inspect the LED lights on a crosswalk sign, the city retained immunity under the GTLA and summary judgment was affirmed.
In Packard v. Bentley, No. E2022-00982-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oc.t 23, 2023), plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, including the city of Gatlinburg, after he was hit by a car while using a crosswalk in Gatlinburg. The crosswalk and road were owned by the State, but the city owned a crosswalk sign on the side of the road. After a similar incident many years prior, the city had added LED lights to the sign, but the lights were not operational at the time of plaintiff’s accident.
The city filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on three grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment, ruling that the city retained its immunity under the GTLA in this case.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205(4) states that “immunity from suit of all governmental entities is removed for injury proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of any employee within the scope of employment except if the injury arises out of…(4) A failure to make an inspection, or by reason of making an inadequate or negligent inspection of any property.” In the trial court and in his appellate brief, plaintiff asserted that the city “was liable for failing to inspect and maintain its own signage.” Plaintiff asserted that if the city had properly inspected its sign, it would have known to repair the LED lights. The Court of Appeals held that this allegation fell directly within § 29-20-205(4), and that the city therefore retained immunity.
Plaintiff argued that the failure to inspect limitation did not apply when the property in question was the governmental entity’s own property, but the Court rejected this argument. The Court explained:
Section 29-20-205(4) is clear. Immunity from suit is not removed when a plaintiff’s claim is based upon a government employee’s failure to make an inspection of any property. This is precisely the claim Plaintiff has asserted against City in this case. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in holding that the City is immune from suit…
Because this holding was conclusive of the case, the Court did not address the trial court’s additional summary judgment grounds.
This opinion was released four months after oral arguments in this case.