State Supreme Court Rejects Governmental Immunity Previously Granted to School Administrators in Auto-Pedestrian Collision Lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Connecticut recently published an opinion reversing a lower court’s ruling to grant the defendants in a personal injury lawsuit immunity from the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff had been struck by a car while crossing the street onto the grounds of a public school, and he filed a negligence lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle that hit him, as well as against several school employees, the town, and members of the school board. The plaintiff’s claim alleged that the defendants breached their duty to the plaintiff to provide a safe school environment by failing to properly monitor and control the vehicular and foot traffic of students coming to and from the school.

Boarding the BusThe Plaintiff Is Struck by a Car as He Crossed the Street

In September 2007, the plaintiff in the case of Strycharz v. Cady was a freshman at the Bacon Academy, a public high school in Colchester, Connecticut. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff left the school grounds to smoke a cigarette after he was dropped off by the school bus but before classes began.

As the plaintiff attempted to cross the street at a crosswalk and visit a popular spot for students to smoke, he was struck and injured by a driver who failed to yield at the crosswalk. As a result of his injuries, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against several parties, including many school and town officials who allegedly knew of the dangers to students presented by traffic before and after school but failed to address the issue.

Sovereign Immunity and the Distinction Between Discretionary and Ministerial Duties

The district court granted summary judgment to all of the governmental defendants on the plaintiff’s claims, ruling that the school, the board, and the town were immune from negligence claims under the state’s governmental immunity statute. Importantly, the court found that the duty to supervise traffic or install a lighted crosswalk to prevent injuries like those suffered by the plaintiff was a discretionary one that the state employees cannot be sued for violating. The state high court affirmed the district court’s decision rejecting the plaintiff’s claims against the school principal, the board of education, and the town itself, but the court found an issue with the district court’s characterization of the duties of the assistant principals, who were tasked with assigning staff to supervise students arriving at and departing from the school by bus.

The court noted that governmental immunity does not apply to ministerial duties, which are defined as those that must be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion. The court ruled that the plaintiff’s allegation that two of the assistant principals failed to assign a school employee to ensure students could safely go from the bus directly into the school after being dropped off could be a violation of a ministerial duty, for which they would not be immune from suit. As a result of this ruling, the high court reversed the judgment in favor of these defendants and remanded the case to the district court to proceed toward a trial or settlement.

Sovereign Immunity and the Liability of Municipal Employees in Florida

The laws determining whether government agencies or employees can be sued for negligence after a South Florida auto-pedestrian accident occurring on public property or involving a government employee are similar to those discussed in the above case. Under Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Act, government employees, lawmakers, and administrators cannot be found liable for damages that result from a failure to uphold a duty that is within the course of their public employment and is discretionary. However, damages may properly be sought from a governmental subdivision or employee if the alleged negligence involved a duty that is ministerial and to be performed exactly as prescribed without the need for judgment or discretion. The distinction between a discretionary duty and a ministerial duty may not be obvious.

How to Pursue a Claim of Negligence Against a Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has been hurt by a negligent act of a state or municipal employee, you may be entitled to damages for your loss. However, sovereign immunity may be something that you will have to overcome. The intelligent and experienced South Florida negligence attorneys at the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank understand how difficult it can be to successfully sue a governmental organization or employee, and we also understand the preferred strategies to successfully pursue such a claim. If you are unsure whether you can sue or not, contact us, and we can discuss your case and evaluate the options for recovery. The consultation is free, and our advice and representation could lead you to a significant financial award for your injuries or loss. Contact us today to get started and discuss your case with an experienced car accident attorney. Call 877-448-8585 or by using our easy online form.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Refuses to Enforce Arbitration Clause Against Young Injury Victim, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 3, 2016.

Court Sides with Plaintiff, Reversing Judgment for Defendant in Slip-and-Fall Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 17, 2016.

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