Hiding Behind Political Immunity – Can a Georgia Teacher Be Liable For Negligently Supervising Her Classroom When a Death Occurs?
When one of your loved ones is under the supervision and care of the State, how do you know they will be safe? If they are not safe – if they are injured or killed – who is to blame? We go about our daily lives assuming that teachers and school administrators, (and jailers, as it works out) will always act with the best interest of our loved ones in mind. They have rules about such things, after all. Don’t they?
Yes, they do. But as with all written policies and procedures there can be ambiguity in the language that may or may not help you in Court. Take the case of Barnett v. Caldwell, 302 Ga. 845 (2018). Here we learn that certain pubic employees enjoy protection from liability in spite of what could be irresponsible behavior.
This tragic situation happened in a Georgia high school when a teacher, who was bound by a written policy to NEVER leave students under her supervision unattended, left her 7th period classroom for a 30-minute period of time. During that time two boys in her classroom engaged in “horseplay” that led to one boy falling atop the other.
When the teacher re-entered the room, she found one boy unconscious on the floor. She called 911. An emergency team transported the boy to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The boy’s broken collar bone had pierced an artery and caused him to bleed to death internally.
The child’s parents brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the teacher, asking that she be held responsible. The trial court granted the teacher’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the case, concluding that she was entitled to immunity from suit. The Court found that because the teacher was acting in an official capacity at the time and because her position was one that allowed her to use her own discretion concerning the supervision of students she was immune from suit by virtue of her position as a public employee.
The Appeals Court in Georgia affirmed the trial court’s decision. Eventually, the Georgia Supreme Court even weighed in on the matter. They also ruled that the teacher was entitled to immunity even though she lied several times about her whereabouts during the time she was missing from the classroom – and to date has no explanation as to her whereabouts at the time.
The problem here was an official policy manual that said one thing but was understood to mean another. The language within the policy manual did not define the words “supervise” nor did it detail what “unsupervised” meant. It was common for teachers to leave the classrooms for short periods of time for emergencies and bathroom breaks leaving the children unattended. The Courts found the policy was sufficiently vague that the teacher could not be held to account for any rule-breaking. Had the written policy been more clear and definite, the result may have been different.
This unfortunate result is due to the immunity our laws often provide to government employees. Governmental entities and their employees often enjoy Official or Sovereign Immunity and can be very difficult to make a claim against or sue. Getting around this immunity can be an uphill battle.
If you have a case against a governmental office, you need a specialist. Call the law offices of The Millar Law Firm. We can’t promise to pierce Official or Sovereign Immunity, but we have successfully handled many cases against government officials and entities.
If there is a way to hold negligent people or government entities accountable for their actions or their inactions in spite of their “immunities,” we believe we are the team that can find it. Call us today for a free case evaluation. We’ll look at the facts in your case and let you know how to proceed. There is no fee unless we are able to make a financial recovery for you.
Give us the opportunity to advocate on your behalf. You’ll be glad you did.