Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Georgia car accident case requiring the court to determine if the defendant, a local utility company, was entitled to government immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the utility was not entitled to immunity because the employee alleged to have caused the accident was not exercising his discretion as a government employee.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was injured in a car accident when she crashed into a pile of dirt and then into a back-hoe that the defendant utility company was using to replace a pipe underneath the road’s surface. According to the facts as laid out in the court’s opinion, the utility employee had removed the dirt covering the pipe and placed it in a large pile in front of the back-hoe. When the back-hoe was not in use, it was left on the shoulder of the road, partially in the roadway.
The plaintiff testified that she saw a “blur” and was unable to avoid the pile of dirt that was immediately ahead of her. After her car ran into the dirt pile, it then continued to crash into the back-hoe. The plaintiff’s car flipped over onto its side, and the plaintiff was injured as a result.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the utility company as well as the employee, in his individual capacity. Both defendants claimed that they were entitled to official government immunity because the employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The plaintiff disagreed, claiming that the utility worker failed to carry out a ministerial act and that his failure to do so waived any official immunity that may otherwise be found. In support of her claim, the plaintiff pointed to testimony from the employee in which he admitted that a supervisor had told him to always place warning signs in advance of construction areas when working on public roads.
The Court’s Analysis
The court began by noting that, as a general matter, a public employee (or public entity) cannot be held liable for discretionary actions unless they are “willful, wanton, or outside the scope of his authority.” However, that immunity does not attach to ministerial actions.
The court then went on to note that there was no allegation that the employee here acted willfully to cause an injury to the plaintiff, so the question became whether the employee’s acts were ministerial or discretionary. The court explained that a ministerial act is one that is “clear, definite and certain as merely to require the execution of a relatively simple, specific duty.”
Here, the court concluded that the supervisor’s directive to always place warning signs in front of a road construction area created a ministerial duty, which the employee violated. The court held that such instructions created a “relatively simple, specific duty” that the employee should have carried out. Thus, the employee’s failure to comply with a ministerial act waived any official immunity.
Have You Been Injured in a Road Construction Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia car accident in a construction zone, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Utility companies, as well as the contractors that work for the government, may be liable to you or your loved one for their failure to take the necessary precautions in securing the construction site. The dedicated Georgia personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law have extensive experience representing victims and their families in a wide range of personal injury lawsuits. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case today, call 404-622-5337.
See More Posts:
Georgia Appellate Court Discusses How Conflicting Testimony Should Be Handled by Lower Courts, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, March 9, 2018.
Court Excludes Key Witness at Trial Due to Plaintiff’s Failure to Identify Witness Before Trial, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, September 27, 2017.