Georgia Supreme Court Rules on Premises Liability Case

A recent Georgia Supreme Court case considered a personal injury lawsuit brought by a woman after falling on a sidewalk while leaving a high school graduation ceremony. She sued the superintendent of the school and others associated with the school. She claimed she stepped from the sidewalk into the road, and her leg was lodged in an opening in the curb where the water drained out of the road.
In her lawsuit, she alleged that the individual defendants she sued had negligently performed their ministerial duties of inspection, maintenance, and repair in connection with the sidewalk. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under OCGA § 9-11-12 (b) (6), asserting the doctrine of official immunity. The trial court granted this motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the decision. It explained that the key issue was whether the school officials had violated their ministerial or discretionary duties. In Georgia, the doctrine of official immunity protects public officials for their “discretionary” acts unless the acts are wanton, willful, or outside the scope of the official’s authority.
Discretionary acts stand in contrast with ministerial acts. Ministerial acts are those that are simple and definite. They require only that a specific duty be exercised under certain conditions. In contrast, a discretionary act requires an official to use personal judgment and consideration. Facts need to be examined and actions taken in a way that is not specifically mandated.
The Court explained that the distinction between the two is specific to the facts in question. In this case, there was no definitive answer about whether the sidewalk repair was discretionary or not. It explained that the motion to dismiss should not have been granted unless the complaint’s allegations showed that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief, no matter what provable facts were submitted in support. The issue was whether the defendants had established the plaintiff couldn’t introduce evidence within the complaint that would warrant the relief.
If there was any evidence that could be introduced that would permit relief for the plaintiff, the complaint could stand and the lawsuit could move forward.
In this case, discovery was limited and the record had not shown what the school officials’ job descriptions were. The Court explained that the allegations did not show that the plaintiff wouldn’t be entitled to relief under any situation of facts and evidence that were put forward in support of the claims.
The Court explained there could be a list of specific tasks that each defendant was supposed to perform on the night of the graduation to make sure the curbs and water drains were safely maintained. Even if such a list is unlikely, the litigation is permitted to move forward. This kind of evidence can be developed during discovery and be reconsidered in another motion for summary judgment. The Court reversed the trial court’s ruling on the motion to dismiss.
If you are hurt due to negligence, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.
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