WARNING: Bringing a claim or lawsuit against any government entity is one of the most complex areas of Georgia law. Trust me. Never attempt to navigate your case without an attorney. Suits against government entities have detailed and complex notice requirements with short deadlines after the incident. If you miss one of these deadlines, your case is forever barred. Call me immediately for free at (678) 537-1209 so I can help you preserve your case.
You have a child that was seriously injured at a public school, your vehicle was hit by a school bus, or your child was physically abused by a member of the school staff. How do you know when you can sue a teacher, administrator or public school system in Georgia?
The answer lies in one of the most complex areas of Georgia law. Twenty years ago, you couldn't bring any suit against a Georgia governmental entity - period - no matter how serious the situation. Thankfully, Georgia now allows suits against teachers, administrators and school districts under certain circumstances and only if the proper procedures are taken. How do you know if your suit is valid and can be brought? Let's take a look at this complex area of the law to help clarify the issue.
In Georgia, county and city entities and their employees are protected by the doctrine of immunity - which means that the county, city, school board and district cannot be sued. There are however some limited exceptions. The most common exception is for automobile accidents caused by county or city employees - most often drivers of school buses. In Georgia, governmental entities may still be liable up to the amount of insurance the county carries for any school bus accident which injures you or your child. Other exceptions exist, but each is very fact specific.
So what does this mean if your situation does not fall under one of these legislature exceptions? Is your suit sunk? Not exactly. Georgia law also allows suits against teachers, principals or staff members in their "personal capacity" in certain situations. Intentional acts are a good example. You can almost always bring suit against a government employee for physical and sexual abuse, battery, assault and false imprisonment. Blatant violations of your child's constitutional rights is another common example of when suit is allowed against a government employee.
What about when the school employee is merely negligent and does not act intentionally? Does the government employee still have immunity from suit? Not for ministerial acts. Ministerial acts are acts or omissions by a teacher or other government employee that violates some well-known law or rule. Discretionary acts on the other hand are not governed by some rule and thus require the teacher or administrator to use their discretion in making a decision. In most cases, you cannot sue a government employee for a discretionary act.
An example may help clarify the distinction: if there is a well known school rule that elementary school students are not permitted to walk to the bathroom alone, yet a teacher sends a child to the bathroom by himself and a serious injury occurs, that is a ministerial act. On the other hand, if there is no rule against sending the child to the bathroom alone and something happens, that will likely be a discretionary decision. In the second scenario, the teacher was using her discretion in letting the child go to the bathroom alone and not leaving the rest of the class unattended - a lawsuit will not be allowed.
As if this complicated legal analysis was not enough, the government has additional added protections including a strict ante litem notice requirement which forever bars your case against any government entity or employee if you do not comply exactly with the statutory requirements immediately after an incident. Thousands of people lose their chance of recovering from a government entity each year because they fail to properly preserve their claim. If you believe that you or someone you know has a claim against a government entity or a county employee, call me immediately at (678) 537-1209 so that I can help you preserve your legal claim against a Georgia teacher, administrator or public school.
R. Michael Coker is an attorney with the Law Offices of R. Michael Coker, LLC and is admitted to practice law in all State and Superior Courts in the State of Georgia, the Georgia Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. He can be reached by phone at (678) 935-6000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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