Articles Posted in Governmental Liability

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.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in West Virginia issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of a woman who was killed in a car accident. In the case, Department of Transportation v. King, the court held that the DMV was entitled to governmental immunity, reversing a lower court.

License PlatesThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a man who lost his mother in a fatal car accident. The driver who struck and killed his mother had previously had her license suspended but had it reinstated two years later. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was responsible for reinstating the woman’s license.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver of the vehicle as well as the DMV. He claimed that the DMV violated a non-discretionary duty to refer the woman’s application to reinstate her license to a medical board to review if the woman was medically fit to have her license reinstated.

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Earlier this month, a Connecticut appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a student and his parents against the student’s high school. In the case, Strycharz v. Cady, the appellate court held that the lower court improperly found that governmental immunity protected the assistant principals, who had a non-discretionary, ministerial duty to assign an adult to monitor the entrance to the school’s parking lot. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs’ case will proceed toward trial against the assistant principals.

School BusesThe Facts of the Case

Strycharz was a student at Bacon Academy. After being bussed to school, Strycharz and another student briefly left the school grounds to go smoke a cigarette. However, on the way across the busy street, Strycharz was struck by a passing vehicle driven by another student.

Strycharz and his family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle as well as several administrators at the school. He claimed that the administrators had a duty to assign a school employee to monitor the school’s entrance, since it was known to be very busy in the morning.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion discussing how the “public duty” doctrine can act to prevent a plaintiff from suing a government agency for alleged acts of negligence stemming from a breach of a duty owed to the general public. In the case, McFarlin v. State, the court determined that the state owed a general duty to maintain the lake where the accident occurred in a safe condition. Because there was no evidence that there was some additional duty owed to the plaintiff, the public duty doctrine prevented government liability.

Cityscape on WaterThe Facts of the Case

Ms. McFarlin’s young son was on a boat being operated by her boyfriend on a lake that was owned and operated by the state. Shortly after embarking, McFarlin’s boyfriend drove the boat near two “danger” buoys that were marking a shallow dredge pipe. The boat came too close to the pipe, struck it, and flipped over. As a result, McFarlin’s young son died.

McFarlin sued the state, alleging that it was negligent in the placement of the buoys, the placement of the pipe, and that the pipe was not adequately marked. The state took the position that it was not liable because it did not violate any duty owed to the plaintiff. Specifically, the state claimed that the duty to keep the lake safe was owed to the general public, and that there was nothing establishing that it owed the plaintiff a duty above and beyond that which was owed to the public. Because of that, the public duty doctrine prevented the state from being found liable.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an opinion in a case brought by the father of a boy who died after he sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell off his skateboard after hitting a lip around a manhole cover. In the case, Bertsch v. Mammoth Community Water District, the court held that the doctrine of “assumption of the risk” prevented the boy’s father from successfully seeking compensation for his loss.

SkateboarderThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff took his two boys on a trip to Mammoth County to enjoy a friend’s condo for a few days. While there, the plaintiff’s sons were out skateboarding around the neighborhood before they were going to meet back up and all go rock climbing. The boys were not performing any tricks, but they did push themselves up a hill so that they could enjoy the long, fast ride down to meet their dad.

Tragically, on the way down the hill, one of the boys’ skateboards hit a lip surrounding a manhole cover, causing the skateboard to come to a complete stop. The young boy flew off the board, striking his head on the pavement as he landed. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and shortly afterward passed away.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nebraska issued an opinion in a case arising out of a bus accident in which the city government named as the defendant admitted liability but argued that the damages ordered by the court were too high. In the case, Moreno v. City of Gering, the appellate court ultimately determined that the lower court was correct in its ruling, and it affirmed the verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

bus-1209153_960_720The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, Moreno, was injured in an accident involving a county-owned bus and a city-owned fire truck. Evidently, Moreno was riding on the bus when it was struck by a fire truck being operated by a volunteer fire-fighter. As a result of the collision, Moreno, who had a pre-existing medical condition affecting her back, suffered serious injuries. A few months after the accident, she had a cervical fusion surgery performed.

At the trial, the city and county admitted that they were each liable to Moreno, but they argued that the surgery was not necessary. To support their claim, they pointed to recent news articles that the doctor who had recently performed the surgery performed a record number of similar surgeries. The defendants presented a medical expert who testified that the surgery was unnecessary given Moreno’s injuries, and that the surgeon who performed it was “a criminal.” There was also evidence presented that the surgeon had been suspended due to the number of medical malpractice cases brought against him.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Maine issued a written opinion in a case filed by a man against a local government, alleging negligence for failing to maintain a safe property near the city hall. In the case, Deschenes v. City of Sanford, the court ultimately dismissed the case because the plaintiff failed to comply with the state’s Tort Claims Act. Specifically, the plaintiff failed to provide written notice to the city within 180 days of his injury.

steps-1566937The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, Deschenes, was injured when he slipped and fell down the steps at the city hall after he went to obtain a copy of his daughter’s birth certificate. According to Deschenes, he tripped on a piece of tread that was uneven, fell to the bottom of the stairs, and then slid into some nearby glass doors.

After his injury, he contacted the nearest city employee, who provided some basic first-aid until emergency medical responders arrived. Once they arrived, Deschenes was transported to the hospital. It was determined that he has suffered some “abrasions.”

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Earlier last month, a Maryland appellate court heard a case that was brought by the family of a man who was killed in a motorcycle accident involving a police officer. In the case of Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, the plaintiff who was the personal representative of a man who was killed when a police cruiser struck his motorcycle sought compensatory and punitive damages from the officer for his negligence.

motorcycle-01-1463298Beall v. Holloway-Johnson:  The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the deceased was involved in a fatal motorcycle accident when the defendant, an on-duty police officer, struck the deceased’s motorcycle with his police cruiser. Evidently, the police officer had previously received a radio call about a motorcycle and a Mercedes chasing each other.

The officer arrived in the vicinity and saw a motorcycle. Uncertain if this was the same motorcycle, he followed the motorcyclist. At some point, the motorcyclist sped up, and the officer followed. During the pursuit, the officer’s commanding officer told the officer to cease the pursuit. However, the officer continued to purse the motorcycle. Eventually, the motorcyclist exited the highway and began to slow down in order to do so. As the rider slowed down, the officer collided with the back of the bike, knocking the rider off and killing him instantly.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a plaintiff’s case against the University of California Santa Cruz based on the university’s absolute immunity in building and maintaining a bike path. In the case, Burgueno v. The Regents of the University of California, the court determined that a bike path used by students to get to school was a “trail” designed for recreational use, and therefore the university was entitled to immunity from lawsuits arising on the trail under state law.

bike-path-1438265Burgueno v. The Regents of the University of California:  The Facts of the Case

The accident giving rise to the case occurred on the Great Meadow Bikeway, which is a bicycle-only path that runs through the university’s campus. On the day of the accident, the plaintiff, a full-time student at the university who lived in off-campus housing, was riding his bike on the Great Meadow Bikeway when he was fatally injured in a bicycle accident that occurred on a downhill portion of the trail. As a result, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, alleging that the dangerous condition of the Bikeway resulted in the student’s death.

In a pre-trial motion, the university sought to dismiss the lawsuit based on governmental immunity. Government entities cannot always be held liable for injuries occurring on government land, and recreational use statutes grant immunity to governments when the land at issue is open for general recreation purposes. However, this would not apply if the bikeway’s main purpose was for transportation and not recreation. Thus, the issue in this case was whether the Great Meadow Bikeway was a “trail” under the recreational use statute, or whether its primary function was to transport people to and from campus.

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Earlier last month, a California court heard a case against the County of San Diego brought by an accident victim who was injured when he was struck by another motorist on a roadway he claimed was poorly designed. In the case, Hampton v. County of San Diego, the court ultimately determined that the government’s sovereign immunity was not waived, and as a result it was immune from the lawsuit.

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Hampton v. County of San Diego: The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a man who was seriously injured when he was involved in a collision with another motorist on a rural intersection. The man filed suit against the other driver in an unrelated case, in which he admitted he could not remember if he stopped at the stop sign prior to entering the intersection. The other driver testified in that case that the plaintiff pulled out “right in front of him, leaving too little time to stop before the collision.” The Highway Patrol conducted an investigation and determined that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s failure to stop at the stop sign.

After that lawsuit, the plaintiff filed this case against the County, claiming that it designed and maintained a dangerous roadway. Essentially, the plaintiff claimed that the design and construction of the road provided inadequate visibility of oncoming traffic due to a high embankment that was covered with vegetation.

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