Court Determines Teacher’s Supervision of Students Is a Discretionary Action Entitled to Official Immunity

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a boy who died while in the defendant teacher’s classroom. In the case, Barnett v. Atlanta Independent School System, the court held that a teacher’s decision on how to supervise and control students is a discretionary action that is entitled to government immunity. As a result of the ruling, the boy’s parents will not be able to seek compensation for the loss of their son.

ClassroomA Student Falls While the Teacher Is Out of the Classroom

Antoine Williams was a seventh-grade student in the defendant’s American Literature class. One afternoon, Williams’ teacher stepped out of the room for a period of about 30 minutes. Before she left, she asked a neighboring teacher to “listen in” on her class to make sure the students were okay. During that time, Williams and another boy were horse-playing when Williams fell to the ground, fracturing his collarbone. When Williams’ teacher returned, Williams was lying on the ground unconscious. The teacher called 911, and Williams was taken to the hospital. Sadly, Williams died from a loss of blood caused by the fractured collarbone.

The school’s principal called the teacher into his office to discuss what had occurred. During the initial discussion, the teacher lied, claiming that she was in the classroom at the time of Williams’ fall. The principal determined this was not the case and confronted the teacher about her misrepresentation. She then offered a series of other reasons as to why she was not present. During a pre-trial deposition, the teacher changed her story yet again, this time claiming that she was using the restroom. It was verified, however, that she did ask the neighboring teacher to listen in on her class.

Williams’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the teacher, claiming that she was responsible for their son’s death. In response, the teacher claimed that she was entitled to official immunity as a government employee who was engaging in a discretionary action at the time of Williams’ death.

The Court’s Decision

The court sympathized with Williams’ parents but ultimately agreed that the teacher was entitled to immunity. The court explained that discretionary actions of government employees are entitled to immunity, and a long line of previously decided cases supported the conclusion that a teacher’s decision on how to supervise her students is considered discretionary. The court noted that, in a case in which a teacher completely disregarded their duty, immunity would not apply. However, the teacher’s actions in asking another teacher to listen in on her classroom was “just enough” for the court to consider her actions discretionary.

Have You Been Injured by a Negligent Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of accident with a government employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, you will likely face significant hurdles along the way. While immunity does not apply in all cases involving government defendants, it is something that most plaintiffs claiming the negligence of a government employee or official will have to confront. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of collective experience representing injured clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including those against government entities. Call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Reversed $1.2 Million Verdict in Wrongful Death Case, Based on Plaintiff’s Untrue Statements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2017.

Plaintiff Unsuccessful in Car Accident Case Due to Failure to Establish Causation, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 2, 2017.

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