Your child was injured at school and you've been thinking of suing his school district here in Atlanta. However, you've heard it's extremely difficult. There's notice requirements, paperwork, antiquated rules. It all makes your head spin. Seeking some basic information on these types of cases? You've come to the right place. Let us fill you in on some of the basics on the law and process of suing a school in Atlanta.
Who Am I Suing?
Know ahead of time that when you try to sue a public school, you are actually suing the government. Why is that important? Public schools, as government institutions, enjoy special government immunity from certain kinds of liability. That means the school district can't be sued unless it agrees to the lawsuit (highly unlikely) or there is a statute that allows it.
The process of suing a public school is much more involved than suing the average person for negligence. You'll likely want to speak to an Atlanta attorney who specializes in education or administrative law or contact your legal aid provider.
Public vs. Private Schools
If your child attends a private school you'll probably have a relatively easier time bringing a lawsuit. Government immunity laws don't protect private schools unless they receive federal funding. Your options include a suit for negligence, breach of contract issues, or simply filing a claim with the school's insurance policy. You'll also have a longer time to file -- two years from the date of the injury. For public schools, you only have one year from the date of the incident to file your lawsuit.
Grounds for Your Lawsuit Against a Public School
There are several reasons you may want to file a lawsuit against your Atlanta public school district. If your child was injured at school, you might want to file a negligence lawsuit. Other reasons parents sue their school include:
But Isn't the Government Immune From These Lawsuits?
Like we mentioned before, the county and its employees are immune from most lawsuits. Check out O.C.G.A. section 36-1-4 if you want to see for yourself. However, if your child was injured or killed on a bus or other school-operated motor vehicle, you can sue outright. In Georgia, governmental entities may still be liable up to the amount of insurance the county carries for any school bus accident that injures your child. Other exceptions exist, but each is very fact-specific.
Can I Personally Sue a Teacher or Administrator Employed by the County?
If you can't sue the school district, you can try suing the actual teacher. In Georgia, you can personally sue the teacher or administrator (not the County), but only for intentional acts or those done with malice. You can almost always bring suit against a government employee for physical and sexual abuse, battery, assault and false imprisonment.
Can I Personally Sue a Teacher or Administrator Employed by the County For Negligence?
Now the waters get murky. What if the teacher is merely negligent and my child gets hurt? Well, the law is protective of teachers, countywide school board members, educators, principals and, school resource officers employed by the school district. They may only be liable for injuries and damages that are caused by the negligent performance or negligent omission of what's called in legal circles, their "ministerial function," and not their "discretionary function." Otherwise, they enjoy immunity from any lawsuits. Oh boy. What does THAT mean?
It means that if there is an actual rule in place, and the teacher doesn't follow it and the child is injured, you'll probably be able to sue. Why? Because ministerial acts are acts or omissions by a teacher or other government employee that violate some well known law or rule. Perhaps an example might help.
Let's say there was a rule that all students must wear a protective eyewear while performing any science experiments. If the teacher doesn't enforce the rule and a child gets an eye-injury as a result, that parent can likely sue. On the other hand, if there isn't a rule requiring protective goggles and something happens, that will likely be a discretionary decision that's protected by law. In the example, the teacher was using her discretion in letting the child perform the science experiment without goggles -- a lawsuit would probably not be allowed.
The Role of Ante Litem Laws When Suing a School Entity in Georgia
Last, but not least, you should know that any time you sue the government in Georgia, you'll have to follow the "ante litem" laws. Ante what? Simply put, it means there is a strict time limit and notice requirement for filing your claim against the school district or school employee. If you don't follow the law, you will be forever prohibited from bringing that claim against any government entity or employee.
If you are suing a county agency, you'll have only 12 months from the date of the incident to file your lawsuit. When dealing with a county, you can submit your ante litem notice at the same time as your lawsuit.
Other Possible Remedies
If you can't sue the school district or an employee, you might have other remedies. This is especially the case if your child is being bullied or is injured by another student. You could sue the bully for assault or battery, sue the bully's parents, or contact law enforcement and ask they bring delinquency or criminal charges against the bully for assault or battery or other charges.
Because there are so many legal variables and the facts of each case are different, it may be best to have the expertise of an Atlanta education lawyer on your side. An experienced attorney will have tried cases similar to yours and know what to expect and how to proceed when seeking damages for your child's injuries.
Contact a qualified attorney.