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Sovereign and Official Immunities Bar Negligence Claim Against School District

In Peach County Sch. Dist. v. Austin, A13A0517; A13A0625 (June 20, 2013), Donna Austin alleged she sustained personal injuries when she fell on a sidewalk while leaving the graduation ceremony at Peach County High School. Austin argued that the school district waived its sovereign immunity by purchasing liability insurance. The Court held that there is no legislative act which specifically provides for any waiver of a school system.

Austin also argued that the trial court erred in finding that official immunity barred her claims against the individual defendants (superintendent, principal, and maintenance director). Under Georgia law, a public officer or employee may be personally liable only for ministerial acts negligently performed or acts performed with malice or an intent to injure. The Court cited Scott v. Waits, 306 Ga.App. 860 (2010), which “held that absent a specific and clear procedure or method for dealing with hazards on school property, the methods used to eliminate or avoid a hazard are left to the discretion of the school district employees.” Because Austin could not point to a specific and clear procedure or method for dealing with the drainage opening in the sidewalk which allegedly caused her injuries, the duties involved here were discretionary.

For more information, please contact Timothy J. Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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