Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The age-old doctrine of governmental immunity from suit seems gradually to be passing into the discard, first in the realm of contract liability, and of late in the field of torts. Recent years have seen its vitality substantially sapped by judicial decisions, and there is a distinct trend among governmental units to do away with it partially or entirely through legislation. Thus, England in the Crown Proceedings Act of 1947, the United States in the Federal Tort Claims Act, and many of the states by similar legislation have renounced their shield of immunity from suit and, by means more regularized than the old special legislation method, have given their citizens redress for harms suffered at the hands of the government. A few states, like England and the United States, have opened their courts to suits by private individuals, either by conferring jurisdiction of claims against the state on some existing court or courts within the judiciary system, or by creating a special court of claims to try such cases. Others have employed administrative methods, falling generally into two main groups: (1) those in which the administrative body is a relatively independent agency conducting investigations, holding hearings, and making the final determination as to whether or not an award should be granted; and (2) those in which the administrative body acts in an advisory capacity to the legislature, the claims "allowed" by the board being referred to the legislature with a recommendation for an appropriation to the claimants." Still others, without any general provision for suits against the state or for administrative settlement of claims, have permitted suits in very restricted classes of cases by statute, and in individual cases by legislative resolution.