State of Tennessee’s negligence results in nearly $8 million in payouts

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Unable to live on his own due to medical problems, a man with a disability spent almost his entire life at the former Greene Valley Developmental Center. The 55-year-old died in 2013 after a fall during a shower trolley transfer.  After receiving a claim related to his fall, the State of Tennessee paid his estate $155,000 nearly two years later, citing negligent care, according to state records.

 Two of the employees involved lost their jobs as a result, according to the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

The case is one of more than 2,000 that resulted in state payouts totaling almost a combined $8 million over a four-year period, according to state data. The money, paid out through the state’s insurance fund, went to people who suffered damages, injuries and even death due to the state’s negligence.

The State of Tennessee paid out a combined $37,000 to two people sent to the hospital after a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper with a history of crashes wrecked in Kingsport in 2016. Her negligence led to one man’s head injury, according to state records.

Failures like those by the State of Tennessee result in payouts as low as a couple dollars to as high as the state-allowed maximum of $300,000. State records show almost $3 million of the nearly $8 million worth of claims paid out by the state’s insurance fund stem from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

“We’re the state agency that seems to have direct impact or direct relationship with the public on a daily basis,” TDOT spokesperson Mark Nagi said of the reason there is likely so many claims against the agency.

That direct impact includes 3,000 TDOT trucks in charge of 15,000 highway miles. 

$600,000 alone of TDOT’s claims came after a TDOT driver sideswiped a motorcycle in Hamilton County in 2014 and sent the two people on board into the air, according state records. One of those people suffered a traumatic brain injury, the records show.

The state paid another $25,000 to a Bluff City man after a TDOT truck hit his car in 2014, knocking him into the median cable barrier in Erwin, according to claim records. The man’s claim form shows he continued to suffer from neck pack and lower back pain as a result of the crash.

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s not more,” attorney Tom Jessee said of TDOT’s costly claims. “We had one where the guardrail was gone, the man broke his back and had substantial medical and the maximum claim against the state is $300,000 and that was paid.”

In recent years, Jessee said he’s handled more than two dozen claims against the state, including a pending lawsuit. The lawsuit involves two cars that crashed in Elizabethton. Jessee represents the plaintiff, but the driver of the other car, as part of her defense, argues a temporary road change with inadequate signage made the highway defective and unreasonably dangerous, according to the lawsuit. 

“It’s also partly the state’s fault because of design or the way it was built,” Jessee said.

The state’s contractors deny any fault.

TDOT’s claims include negligent highways and bridges, dangerous highway conditions and negligent operation of vehicles and machinery. From patching potholes to repairing bridges, Nagi maintains the agency’s crews are constantly making improvements and can now make even more thanks to last year’s gas tax increase that will fund almost 1,000 road and bridge projects.

“We’re trying to make these roadways as safe and as efficient as possible and that’s something our folks do every single day,” Nagi said. “They work to try and keep people as safe as possible, so that’s our mission.”

Compared to the Virginia Department of Transportation, records show TDOT has less expensive claims. VDOT reports roughly $4.4 million in claims since 2014 compared to $2.8 million in Tennessee. Tennessee’s Risk Management Office reports it has added multiple safety programs in an attempt to reduce liability, including adding safety officers within TDOT.

“(TDOT does) have the most exposure to risk,” Tennessee Department of Treasury Communications Director Shelli King said.

The Department of Treasury handles all state claims for roughly 100 state departments.

“The risk management fund covers every state entity from a state cabin at a public park all the way up to Neyland Stadium,” King said. “The claims could range from a trip and fall to death.”

In order for a person to successfully secure a payment, King said he or she must prove the state was negligent. King said people can file a claim in writing, providing any relevant facts and details and documentation that supports the claim. She said examples of documentation include two repair estimates if you are making a claim for damage to your car and medical bills and treatment notes from your doctor if you are making a claim for injuries. Click HERE for the state’s claim form, which is not required.

The state has 90 days after receiving a claim to review and then approve or deny it.

Since 2014, almost 8,000 people have filed almost $25 million worth of claims in Tennessee. Of those, the state’s paid $7,983,000 of the claims. The majority of the paid claims, $5 million worth, were the result of negligent operation of vehicles and machinery, according to state records.

Records show some employees are disciplined when they’re found to be negligent, but King said the individual agencies make that decision.

For example, state records show in a case near Chattanooga, a state trooper is still working today after admitting in 2016, he didn’t notice a man on a motorcycle before it was too late, crashing into him and killing the man. The state paid his family $275,000, according to claim records.

Claims data show the Tennessee Department of Safety paid out the second most claims behind TDOT with more than $600,000 since 2014, followed by the University of Tennessee Knoxville Campus with roughly $371,000 in paid claims.

The former Greene Valley Development Center is responsible for $164,000 in claims, East Tennessee State University’s responsible for about $28,000 in claims and the Northeast Correctional Center is responsible for almost $5,000 in claims, according to state data.

To view a list of all paid claims click HERE

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