KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A federal lawsuit filed by survivors of the 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires can now continue after a federal appellate panel reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the claims against the National Park Service.
All three judges on the federal panel ruled in favor of overturning U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit last year. Greer wrote in his ruling that it was dismissed largely due to errors in the families’ initial filing.
He said that the lawsuit did not include a necessary claim that the park had a duty to warn its neighbors and forms submitted to claim damage, injury, or death were missing specific pieces of information. An attorney representing the families called the decision “totally wrong” and filed a federal appeal in March 2022.
A lawsuit filed by several insurance companies was allowed to continue because they included the necessary ‘failure to warn’ charge.
The ruling remands the case back to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee for further court proceedings.
“We are extremely happy with today’s ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Ted Leopold, plaintiffs’ counsel at Cohen Milstein. “We now look forward to litigating these cases on the merits and providing a full measure of justice for the hundreds of our clients who lost their properties, their dreams, and in many instances, lost their lives, all as a result of the federal government’s failure to act quickly during the Gatlinburg fire.”
Michael Reed, one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit whose wife and daughters died in the wildfires, filed a lawsuit against the lawyers representing him last year alleging that legal malpractice led to the dismissal of the case.
Fourteen people died in the wildfires that began in late 2016, one of the worst natural disasters in state history. Over 2,400 buildings were destroyed, and more than 17,000 acres were burned.