NASHVILLE, Tenn. --
It has always been hard to sue government employees, but after a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling, it could be harder than ever to sue a state, city or county worker who intentionally hurts someone.
A Tennessee Supreme Court ruling recently made a huge distinction: if a government employee hurts you by accident, you can sue the government for up to $300,000. If he hurts you on purpose, you now get nothing.
"Occasionally, you will have a confrontation, where the employee acts intentionally and illegally, but that doesn't mean that the citizen should have ... the worst the harm is, the less the citizen gets," said David Raybin, a lawyer and noted legal scholar. "That makes no sense at all."
All of this came about after Nashville fireman Dalton Hughes sued the city of Nashville and won $250,000 when a Public Works employee pulled up behind him and slammed his front loader. Hughes was scared, jumped over a guardrail and injured himself.
But the state Supreme Court said the driver of the front loader admitted he "was just joking" and "didn't mean to do that" and was "just trying to scare you all."
The Supreme Court ruled that the action was intentional and took away the $250,000 judgment.
"If the city acts negligently, if this front loader had hit this person accidentally just walking by, he'd be compensated. But since the driver of the front loader was doing this intentionally, committing horseplay so to speak, the innocent person gets nothing," said Raybin.
A lot of this law is ancient, going back to the idea that "the king can do no wrong."
For legal scholars like Raybin, he said we are returning to those days where cities and companies are more important than ordinary residents.
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