Court Determines City Employee Not Personally Immune from Negligence Lawsuit

Earlier this month, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an opinion determining that a city employee is not considered an “owner” of city property and thus, may be held liable for his negligent actions that result in another’s injury. In the case, Johnson v. Gibson, the court’s ruling will permit the plaintiff’s lawsuit to proceed against the city employee in his individual capacity.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, who is legally blind, was injured while jogging in a city-owned park. She tripped and fell after stepping in a hole that had been dug to fix a broken sprinkler head. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the individual employee responsible for digging the hole.

The case was filed in federal court, and in order to decide the case the federal court had to apply Oregon law. The federal court then asked the Oregon court to answer one specific question: was the defendant, a city employee, entitled to official immunity as an “owner” of the land?

The Oregon court started by noting that the applicable statute provided immunity for the owners of land who open their land up to the public. However, the court determined that the employee was not properly considered an “owner.” The court arrived at this conclusion by looking at the specific wording of the statute, which provided immunity only to those who had a possessory interest in the land or occupied the land. Under these facts, the employee neither had a possessory interest nor did he occupy the land.

The court also found relevant the fact that the state legislature could have – but chose not to – extend recreational immunity to the agents and employees of the owners of the land. Such phrasing would have exempted the defendant from his allegedly negligent conduct. However, without such explicit language, the court was not comfortable holding that the defendant was entitled to immunity.

As a result of this ruling, the plaintiff’s case will continue forward in the federal court, where she may receive compensation for her injuries if she is able to prove the remaining elements of her claim. Of course, she may only be entitled to a reduced award amount if the court determines that she too was partially at fault for her own injuries in stepping in the hole.

Have You Been Injured While on the Land of Another?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on another’s property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you recoup the costs associated with your injuries through a premises liability lawsuit. Even in cases where the land belongs to a city or state government, you may still have a viable case despite the general rule of official immunity. In some cases, where it can be shown a government knew of a danger but failed to correct it, a government’s immunity can be waived. To learn more about premises liability accidents, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

Medical Malpractice Case Dismissed for Failure to Comply with Medical Expert Requirements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 15, 2016.

Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $72 Million Award Based on Product Liability Lawsuit over Talcum Powder, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 1, 2016.

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