In 2016, a forest fire destroyed several thousands of acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One year later, numerous insurance companies filed nine actions in state court against Wolf Tree, Inc. alleging hazardous trees fell on power lines causing two spot fires outside the park on the night the Gatlinburg Fires spread out of control. The plaintiff insurance companies seek approximately $45 million in damages against Wolf Tree as the contractor who last serviced the areas of these spot fires (as well as against the local utility) under negligence, trespass and nuisance claims. In the past, plaintiffs had been successful with similar lawsuits in California, but this was their first attempt at such claims in Tennessee.
Wolf Tree enlisted Bass, Berry & Sims to represent the company in these allegations; Jessie Zeigler serves as lead counsel. We succeeded in consolidating the nine cases into two cases before two different judges in the same court. We then succeeded in obtaining summary judgment on the first consolidated case in the fall of 2020, where the court agreed that as a matter of law, plaintiffs could not meet their burden of showing that Wolf Tree had a duty to inspect the trees at issue, which were outside of the right of way they contracted to trim. In May 2021, the judge on the second consolidated case also issued a ruling in our client’s favor and granted our summary judgment motion on the same grounds that the plaintiff could not meet its burden to show that Wolf Tree had a duty to inspect the trees at issue, and thus its negligence, trespass and nuisance claims fail as a matter of law. We continue to represent the company to defend our summary judgments in plaintiffs’ appeals.