Government employees and agents do sometimes cause personal injuries by acting carelessly. Georgia law treats the government differently because of a longstanding concept known as sovereign immunity. This allows state and local governments to avoid legal liability in some circumstances but not all.
Lawsuits Against Georgia State or Government Employees
Cases involving personal injuries caused by Georgia State or local government employees or agents can be complicated due to sovereign immunity issues. However, it’s a mistake to assume that a government is always off limits. Immunity can be waived in some circumstances, allowing injured individuals to obtain compensation for their injuries.
A recent Georgia Appeals Court case provides one example of how sovereign immunity applies under Georgia law in a personal injury lawsuit (City of Milledgeville v. Primus).
City of Milledgeville v. Primus: Georgia Law
The City of Milledgeville had a contract with the state corrections department where the city supplied buses for transporting inmates for city-related projects. The city was responsible for inspecting and maintaining the buses.
In October 2007, a state corrections employee was transporting inmates in a bus provided by the city when the bus’s front brakes failed. To avoid running a red light at an intersection, the driver ran off the road and collided with a utility pole. He suffered neck and back injuries as a result of the collision.
The brakes did not work because the brake line had suddenly ruptured. The driver contended the city breached its legal duty by failing to inspect and maintain the brake line, causing his injuries.
The city countered that a brake line is a “lifelong” part that is not normally replaced in accordance with a standard replacement schedule – such as changing tires or air filters. The city argued that a brake line is replaced only if an experienced mechanic in his or her judgment determines that it needs replacing.
Georgia Appeals Court: Sovereign Immunity Applies Under Georgia Law
The Georgia Appeals Court ruled in favor of the city. The Appeals Court concluded that the city did not waive its sovereign immunity, agreeing that inspecting a brake line for a concealed defect is a discretionary act requiring independent judgment. Government employees exercising discretion or independent judgment while doing their jobs are protected from lawsuits.
Even though the city admitted that it had a general legal duty to inspect and maintain the buses used by the state corrections department, the decision whether to inspect and replace the brake line was not controlled by a specific standard, the court ruled. In other words, inspecting the brake line was within the discretion of the mechanics employed by the city.
You Can Sue a Government Entity for Negligence
An individual can sue a governmental entity for negligent inspection, the court said, if the inspection requires an employee or agent to simply follow a standard protocol on what defects to look for and when.
Consulting with a law firm experienced in handling personal injury cases against the government is a big step in the right direction. A skilled personal injury lawyer will know what to look for in ascertaining whether the employee or agent was following orders, or making independent judgments and decisions.
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