Question of Official Immunity for Fire Inspector Directing Traffic
Daniel Herhold was hit by a vehicle while attempting to cross Cobb Parkway following a Braves game. He sued Zachary Siegrist, a Cobb County fire inspector, who was directing pedestrian foot traffic. Siegrist filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that he was entitled to official/qualified immunity. The trial court denied the motion but issued a certificate of immediate review, which was granted. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of Siegrist's motion to dismiss. Siegrist v. Herhold, 365 Ga. App. 828 (2022).
The Cobb County Police Department (“CCPD”) was responsible for developing a safety plan to address vehicular and pedestrian traffic control outside of Truist Park on game days. The CCPD used fire & emergency services employees to enforce its safety plan. In enforcing the safety plan, Siegrist had to consider multiple factors, including the number, age, and agility of the pedestrians seeking to cross, along with the traffic flow. While at his assigned intersection, Siegrist noticed Herhold and his companions attempting to cross nine lanes of traffic on Cobb Parkway outside of the designated crosswalks. Herhold was approximately 30 to 40 yards south of Siegrist's intersection and was in the path of oncoming traffic. Siegrist walked toward Herhold and shouted to Herhold to get out of the roadway. A few seconds later, Herhold was struck by a vehicle.
Public officers and employees “may be liable for injuries and damages caused by the negligent performance of, or negligent failure to perform, their ministerial functions and may be liable for injuries and damages if they act with actual malice or with actual intent to cause injury in the performance of their official functions.” As to the discretionary function, the court had little trouble concluding that Siegrist's actions in responding to Herhold's attempt to cross nine lanes of traffic at an unauthorized location when Siegrist was responsible for managing foot traffic at a nearby intersection were discretionary in nature. There were numerous factors that Siegrist had to consider and made a “split-second decision” to walk to Herhold. However, although the court noted that official immunity “is a threshold issue that must be decided at the earliest practicable opportunity,” the record was not clear that a fire inspector directing traffic was performing his official functions. Specifically, there was nothing in the current record from which to determine through his training or otherwise that pedestrian traffic management fell within the scope of Siegrist's authority as a Fire & Life Safety Inspector. The court’s holding indicates that determinations of official/qualified immunity are in some cases better suited to the summary judgment stage.