Court Discusses Official Government Immunity in Recent Wrongful Death Case

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a student who died while horseplaying with another student at school. At the time of the accident, the teacher in charge of the classroom had stepped out and asked another teacher in a nearby room to keep an eye on the children. The court was tasked with determining whether the teacher was entitled to official immunity.The case raises interesting and important issues that often arise in Florida personal injury cases involving government defendants. These include Florida car accidents involving government employees and slip-and-fall accidents that occur on government property.

Official Immunity

Under both the Florida and United States Constitutions, government agencies and officials are entitled to immunity unless immunity is specifically waived by the government. Each state has its own tort claims act in which lawmakers determine which types of cases are exempt from the general grant of immunity.

A common situation in which government immunity is waived is when someone is injured due to a negligent act of a government employee. However, immunity is only waived when the act at issue is considered ministerial. A ministerial act is one that does not involve discretion.

The idea behind preserving government immunity in cases in which discretion is involved is so that government employees are not discouraged from performing the necessary functions of their jobs out of fear of incurring legal liability. However, when a government employee is given discretion in how to carry out their duties, the government can be held liable for the employee’s negligent conduct.

Is Supervising Students Discretionary?

The court in the above-mentioned case had to determine if the teacher’s actions were discretionary in nature. If so, the teacher was immune from liability.

The court first looked at the school’s policy regarding the supervision of students. Specifically, the school’s handbook required that students are never to be left unsupervised by a school employee. The court read this directive to allow for a teacher’s discretion in when leaving the classroom would be appropriate and which actions should be taken to arrange for the supervision of the students in the teacher’s absence.

Having found that the teacher’s actions were discretionary in nature, the court concluded that she was entitled to immunity. However, the court refrained from drawing a bright-line rule, noting that the determination of whether a teacher’s duty to supervise should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Has Your Child Been Injured While at School?

If you have a child who has been seriously injured while in the care of a teacher or another school administrator, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you cover the costs of your child’s injuries. The South Florida school injury lawyers at Friedman, Rodman & Frank are a team of skilled Florida injury attorneys who can assist clients in bringing cases against the negligent parties responsible for their injuries. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today, call 877-448-8585.

More Blog Posts:

Florida’s Rule of Evidence Regarding Witnesses’ Inconsistent Statements, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 19, 2017.

Appellate Court Discusses the Government’s Responsibility to Maintain Safe Roadways, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published February 5, 2018.

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