Court Discusses Governmental Immunity in Recent Georgia School Bus Accident Case

Recently, an appeals court issued an opinion addressing governmental immunity in Georgia personal injury lawsuits. The lawsuit stems from the tragic death of a five-year-old boy who died after being struck and killed when exiting a school bus.

According to the opinion, the bus driver stopped the bus near the child’s home, and then activated the vehicle’s flashing lights, stop sign, and crossing gate. The child was previously instructed to look back at the bus driver before crossing the double-yellow line. However, the boy stepped off the bus, saw his mother, and started to cross the road without looking back. As the boy stepped off the bus, the bus driver saw an oncoming truck, at which point she honked the horn and waved to the child. Unfortunately, it was too late and the boy was struck and killed by the oncoming vehicle.

The family filed a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit against the bus driver, claiming that she was negligent in allowing the child off the bus without assuring that there was no traffic. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the bus driver based on governmental immunity. The plaintiffs argued that governmental immunity should not bar their case because the driver had a duty to keep students on the bus until all of the traffic stopped. The plaintiffs claimed that this duty was “ministerial” and “absolute”; therefore, governmental immunity should not apply.

Governmental immunity prevents individuals from suing a government. To overcome governmental immunity in Georgia personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs must either show malice or intent to injure, or that the government official’s actions were ministerial. Under Georgia law, a ministerial duty is one that is simple, absolute, and definite. Whereas, a discretionary action entails personal deliberation and judgment calls.

While some actions may seem discretionary initially, if there is a written policy, a specific directive, or a statue clarifying the duty, courts may determine that the act is ministerial instead of discretionary. However, the directives must be very specific, absolute, and definite to create a ministerial duty. Even if the party owes a duty of care and is required to do something, the act may be discretionary. The actor must be commanded by law or a supervisor to perform a particular task for an action to be considered ministerial.

In this case, the appeals court found that bus drivers were trained to use both direct vision and mirrors to identify any traffic. Moreover, they were also instructed to watch whether the student had stepped off the bus. Here, the appeals court found that the bus driver did not engage in any malice, and she was using her discretionary judgment when she released the student off the bus. As a result, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.

Has a Georgia Government Official’s Negligence Caused Your Injury?

If you or a loved one has been injured because of the actions of a government official, you should contact the Atlanta personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law. The attorneys at the law firm have many years of experience handling various types of personal injury lawsuits, including Georgia car accident cases involving government defendants. The attorneys at the law firm can help you learn about your rights and remedies, and take the appropriate action. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the damages you sustained. Contact McAleer Law at 404-622-5337 to schedule your free initial consultation.