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Georgia Supreme Court Allows Negligence Case Against School Officials to Go Forward

graduation-784495-mEach personal injury action presents a different set of facts that have the potential to alter the outcome of the case. In slip and fall cases, also known as “premises liability” actions, plaintiffs must plead and prove certain required elements in order to establish liability and recover for their injuries. The extent to which a plaintiff successfully pleads and proves a negligence case will directly impact his or her right to a recovery for damages. If you have sustained an injury due to another’s negligence, it is critical that you contact an Atlanta area injury attorney as soon as possible after the incident occurs to preserve and protect your rights.

In a recent case, Austin v. Clark, et al., Ga. Sup. Ct. (2014), the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on official immunity. Essentially, the Court allowed the case to move forward so that the parties would have ample opportunity to conduct a sufficient amount of discovery to either prove or disprove the asserted claims. Here, the plaintiff, Donna Austin, brought a personal injury action against the Superintendent of Peach County Schools and various other school administrators (hereinafter “Clark”), seeking damages that she allegedly sustained from a fall on a sidewalk at the high school after attending a graduation ceremony.

Specifically, plaintiff claimed that while she was on school district property, she stepped into a roadway from the sidewalk and her leg got caught in an opening on the area where water drains from the road. Austin alleged that the defendants in this case negligently performed the “ministerial” duties of inspection, maintenance and repair of the sidewalk and road where the accident occurred. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the claims were barred by the doctrine of official immunity. The trial court agreed with defendants and granted the motion. The court of appeals affirmed the decision. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether the defendants were entitled to the motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of official immunity.

The fundamental issue on appeal is whether the school officials’ conduct (or lack thereof) constituted the violation of a ministerial or discretionary duty. The Supreme Court pointed out that the distinction between the two types of duties is “highly fact specific” and cannot be answered definitively at this point in the proceedings. Significantly, there had been limited discovery in this case, and the record does not include the job descriptions of the people who have been sued. Due to the limited record that has been accumulated so far, the court concluded that it could not be said that the allegations conclude with certainty that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts.

By reversing the decision, the Court is granting both sides the opportunity to present more information and facts to support their claims. This is a significant decision for plaintiffs, as the Court is generously affording the injured party a chance to prove the elements of the negligence action, despite defendants’ claims of official immunity.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall or trip and fall case, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Atlanta injury attorney as soon as possible. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, representing individuals who have been injured in premises liability incidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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