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Georgia Appellate Court Holds Teacher Who Left Classroom Is Entitled to Immunity in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a young boy who died after he fell while the teacher was out of the classroom. In the case, Barnett v. Atlanta Independent School System, the court determined that a teacher’s decision related to the control and supervision of students is a discretionary one that is entitled to immunity.

ClassroomThe Facts of the Case

In October 2008, Antoine Williams, a seventh-grade student, fell on the floor while horse-playing with another student. Williams’ teacher was not in the classroom at the time and did not return until approximately 30 minutes after Williams’ fall. Upon her return, the teacher called 911, and Williams was taken to the hospital, but sadly Williams died due to a loss of blood.

After the accident, the school’s principal conducted an investigation into the accident. When asked, the teacher initially told the principal she was in the room when Williams fell after complaining of a bloody nose. However, that was later shown to be a false statement, and the teacher admitted to not being in the room.

When she was again asked what happened, the teacher gave several different versions of what had occurred, ultimately saying she was in the restroom. She later testified that she had asked another teacher in a neighboring classroom to “listen in” on her class to make sure everything was fine while she was gone.

Williams’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the teacher. In response, the teacher claimed that she was entitled to government immunity because she was a state employee engaging in a discretionary act. Williams’ parents argued that the teacher’s decision to leave the classroom was in direct violation of the school handbook, and therefore, she should not be entitled to immunity.

The Court’s Decision

The court reluctantly sided with the teacher, citing a long line of cases that stand for the proposition that a teacher’s decision on how to supervise and control the students in her classroom is a discretionary decision that is entitled to immunity. The plaintiffs argued that the teacher’s decision to leave the classroom was a dereliction of her duty, rather than an exercise of discretion. However, the court explained that here, the teacher did “just enough” by asking the neighboring teacher to listen in on her classroom for her actions to be considered discretionary.

Have You Been a Victim of a Government Employee’s Negligence?

If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of a government employee’s negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as the discussion above illustrates, government employees are often entitled to immunity, which can destroy an accident victim’s chances at compensation. The skilled wrongful death lawyers at Miller Legal Services are familiar with the nuances of Georgia’s immunity laws, and we know how to put together a convincing case for establishing liability, regardless of the named defendant. Immunity is not present in every case, and with the assistance of a dedicated personal injury attorney, you may be able to establish that the government employee at fault for your injuries should not be entitled to immunity. To learn more, call 770-284-3727 to set up a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Injured Georgians May Have a Claim Against an Insurance Company that Acts in Bad Faith, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 6, 2016.

Georgia Appellate Court Discusses Spoliation Doctrine and a Party’s Duty to Preserve Evidence, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2017.

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