A woman leaving a graduation ceremony fell into an opening when she stepped from a sidewalk onto the roadway. Her leg became stuck in a hole on the curb where rainwater drains from the road. The woman sued the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent of facilities, the principal of the school, and the director of maintenance of the school system. The injured woman argued in Austin v. Clark, S13G1590, that the defendants failed to inspect the property and neglected to maintain and repair the sidewalk and road.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on their alleged statutory rights to sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that’s been developed through statute and case law that provides the government protection from lawsuits so the government can function without being hindered by legal actions. The Georgia Constitution provides protection to the state departments and agencies for all claims unless they are based on a written contract or fall under the Georgia Tort Claims Act where immunity has been waived. O.C.G.A. Section 50-21-23 waives the immunity for tortious acts of state officers and employees who are acting within the scope of their official duties or employment. The state is liable as a citizen or entity would have been liable under the same circumstances. This applies to state courts only and does not include any action within the United States.
The Supreme Court focused on whether the acts or failure to act of the school officials were violation of a ministerial or discretionary duty. A ministerial act is when someone executes a specific duty – something that is simple, absolute, and definite. A discretionary act is when the person exercised judgment and acted outside of their direction. If a public officer or agent was performing a ministerial act, he or she can be held personally liable, but if the public officer or agent was performing a discretionary act, they cannot be held liable unless the act is willful, wanton, or outside the scope of his or her authority. The Supreme Court reasoned that the distinction between the two is very fact-specific, and that up to the point of the initial dismissal, there were not enough facts provided of the job descriptions of the defendants to completely rule out the possibility of the defendants performing ministerial acts. The Supreme Court ruled that summary judgment was not appropriate and reversed the prior decisions of the trial court and Court of Appeals.
Having an experienced personal injury attorney at your side is important when filing suit against any state agency, whether a school system or state agency. The Georgia premises liability attorneys at Angell Law Firm are available to handle your slip-and-fall case. Immediate action is necessary, and our lawyers and staff are here to thoroughly investigate your case by locating witnesses and preserving evidence. If you have been injured at a business or work, and would like to speak to an attorney about your case, call our office at (770) 217-4954 today for a free, confidential consultation.
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