The Tennessee Supreme Court today dismissed a claim against the State of Tennessee by a Florida resident whose husband was injured in a car crash with a Tennessee Department of Transportation truck. The Court dismissed the lawsuit because the claimant wife did not give the State written notice of her claim before she filed her lawsuit, as Tennessee law requires.
On December 11, 2017, TDOT employees, while applying a de-icing solution, parked two TDOT trucks in the center lane of an overpass on State Highway 111 in Sequatchie County, Tennessee. They did not put out any signs or other devices to warn oncoming drivers of the vehicles parked in the middle of the highway.
Meanwhile, Florida resident Steven Kampmeyer was traveling northbound on State Highway 111. His car collided with one of the parked TDOT trucks. Mr. Kampmeyer suffered serious injuries.
Mr. Kampmeyer filed written notice of a claim against the State with Tennessee’s Division of Claims and Risk Management, alleging the TDOT employees were negligent. The claim was not settled, so the Division transferred it to the Tennessee Claims Commission, the trial court that decides claims against the State of Tennessee. There, Mr. Kampmeyer filed a formal complaint, which included a claim by his wife, Melissa Kampmeyer, for loss of consortium.
The State filed a motion to dismiss Mrs. Kampmeyer’s claim because, unlike her husband, she did not give written notice of her claim to the Division of Claims and Risk Management within a year of the injury. The Claims Commission dismissed Mrs. Kampmeyer’s claim. She appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which affirmed the dismissal. Mrs. Kampmeyer was then granted permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The appeal centered on Tennessee’s Claims Commission Act, the law that governs procedures for negligence claims against the State of Tennessee. Under that law, within one year of injury, claimants must give the Division of Claims and Risk Management written notice that has basic information about their claim. The statute gives the Division ninety days to investigate claims and resolve them if possible. When claims are not resolved, the Division transfers them to the Claims Commission, where the claimant is expected to file a formal legal complaint against the State.
In this case, Mrs. Kampmeyer’s claim was included in her husband’s formal complaint with the Claims Commission, but it was not included in her husband’s initial written notice to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. In their appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Kampmeyers pointed out that the formal complaint with the Claims Commission, which included Mrs. Kampmeyer’s claim, was filed within one year of the injury. They argued this was enough to satisfy the requirement for written notice of Mrs. Kampmeyer’s loss of consortium claim within one year of the injury. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The Court looked at the Claims Commission Act, which clearly states that written notice has to be given to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. The purpose of that provision is to give the Division an opportunity to resolve claims against the State without the need for litigation in the Claims Commission. Nothing in the statute allows claimants like Mrs. Kampmeyer to give “notice” to the State by filing their formal complaint directly with the Claims Commission.
For that reason, the Court agreed with the trial and intermediate courts that the complaint the Kampmeyers filed with the Claims Commission did not fulfill the requirement that they give written notice of the wife’s claim to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. This meant her claim for loss of consortium was barred by the statute of limitations, so the Court affirmed its dismissal.