Federal Court Dismisses Gatlinburg Wildfire Plaintiff’s Cases
The victims of the Gatlinburg Wildfires who lost their homes and loved ones in the fires that raged through Gatllinburg on November 29th and 30th of 2016 were victims again on Monday…this time of the court system. Lawsuits filed by victims of the wildfires were severed and dismissed in a memorandum opinion and order that was issued by the US federal court in Knoxville yesterday. The order by judge Ronnie Greer dismisses the lawsuits filed by individual plaintiffs but allows lawsuits filed by insurance companies to continue. The court explained why…After the fires, numerous people and several insurance companies filed administrative claims in US court for compensation for damages arising from the fire. By law, those cases had to start as administrative complaints. All of those administrative complaints would later become individual lawsuits, which were then consolidated to create one big lawsuit containing all the arguments. In their filings, insurance companies claimed the National Park Service failed to provide “timely and accurate notice and warning” about the status of the Chimney Top 2 fire to local government and fire departments, residents and visitors…however, that argument was not in the individual fire victims’ original complaint….they would wind up adding it later. Federal attorneys argued they didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuits filed by individuals because the individual plaintiffs made the mistake of not including that ‘failure to warn’ provision in their original complaints as the insurance companies had done. Judge Greer decided the court DID HAVE jurisdiction over the lawsuits, but he agreed with federal attorneys that the individual plaintiffs should have included the failure-to-warn component from the beginning. So Greer granted the federal attorneys’ motion to dismiss individual cases but allowed the insurance plaintiff’s cases to move forward.
But, when Judge Greer dismissed those individual cases he did so without prejudice…meaning that individuals are free to try again…many of those plaintiffs say they will do just that.