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Client challenges lawyers’ handling of Gatlinburg fire lawsuit

by | Jan 2, 2023 | Duty of Care, Expert Witnesses, Legal Malpractice, Trial Errors |

An attorney or law firm can make a negligent mistake in almost any area of law if they breach their reasonable duty of care to their client. When legal malpractice occurs during litigation, the client can suffer severe losses, mostly financial. Depending on the nature of legal counsel’s malpractice, the client could lose their right to file the suit, have it dismissed, have a judgment or injunction against them, receive a less favorable outcome than expected or suffer other kinds of losses.

Gatlinburg fire victims’ claims against federal government shut down in court

Popular tourist town Gatlinburg, Tenn., experienced a horrific fire in Nov. 2016, causing extensive property loss, injuries and 14 deaths, according to the Tennessee Lookout. Michael Reed’s wife and daughters perished in the fire. Reed, along with more than 500 other victims, hired lawyers in Tennessee and Florida to collectively sue the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior. The federal lawsuit alleged that agency personnel failed to provide required warnings to Gatlinburg officials and residents of the dangerous fire brewing in the nearby Great Smoky Mountain National Park during high winds and drought.

Reportedly, the town only learned of the impending danger when a city fire captain questioned the park’s fire management officer about smoke. Reed’s family members died after emergency personnel could not reach their part of town with evacuation notices in time.

Judge finds plaintiffs failed to meet Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) requirements

The FTCA is the federal law governing how to bring claims against government agencies when certain federal employees harm individuals through negligent or wrongful behavior in the course of their official duties. It requires before filing a federal lawsuit that the injured party file notice of their legal claims for money damages with the government. If the government denies the claims or fails to issue a decision in six months, the plaintiff may then sue the government in federal court.

In this case, the federal judge dismissed Reed’s case, agreeing with government attorneys that the plaintiffs failed to provide notice of their intention to bring a failure-to-warn claim against the agencies before filing the federal lawsuit. Reportedly, the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed notice forms but failed to include the failure-to warn part of the claim.

The court refused to reconsider its ruling and the plaintiffs have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where it is pending as of this writing on Jan. 1, 2023. In Oct. 2022, Reed filed a malpractice lawsuit in Tennessee state court against the lawyers who handled the FTCA action.


In a malpractice lawsuit involving negligent handling of a previous suit, the plaintiff normally must prove that without their lawyer’s negligent breach of professional duty in the underlying litigation, the outcome would have been better for the client. This may require the testimony of a legal expert in the malpractice suit.

Showing that the first trial would have come out more favorably for the client but for their attorney’s negligence can be a complex undertaking that normally requires an experienced and knowledgeable malpractice lawyer.


The Lookout article reports that the new lawyer that filed Reed’s malpractice lawsuit is alleging that the original attorneys fell short of their standard of care when they failed to properly file adequate notice, among other things. We will report back to readers any significant developments in either lawsuit.


Anyone who questions whether the outcome of a lawsuit was harmful to them because of how their lawyer conducted the litigation should speak as soon as possible with a seasoned legal negligence attorney about potential legal remedies.