Legal Memorandum: Punitive Damages in TN

Issue: In Tennessee, are punitive damages available under the Governmental Tort Liability Act?

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Government Claims, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Punitive damages; Governmental Tort Liability Act; Willful acts by governmental entities
Jurisdiction: Tennessee
Cited Cases: 561 S.W.2d 148; 971 F. Supp. 308
Cited Statutes: § 1983
Date: 12/01/2000

The Act does not allow claims for intentional or willful acts by governmental entities.  Tipton County Bd. of Educ. v. Dennis, 561 S.W.2d 148, 152 (Tenn. 1978).  Because it is inappropriate to allow punitive damages for mere negligence, the Act does not authorize punitive damages.  Id. at 152.

Punitive damages are unavailable against governmental entities under § 1983.  Wagner v. City of Memphis, 971 F. Supp. 308, 322 (W.D. Tenn. 1997).  But punitive damages are designed to punish and deter officials who have engaged in egregious wrongdoing and may be assessed in a § 1983 action.  Id. at 322. 


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