Our clients are often injured as the result of the actions (inactions) of a government employee. These are tricky claims because, from a legal standpoint, government employees enjoy certain legal protections.
In cases involving the operation of a county or city-owed motor vehicle, immunity is waived by statute and an injured party can seek whatever insurance coverage is in place. In cases not involving operation of a motor vehicle, county and municipal employees can only be sued for negligent performance or non-performance “ministerial” duties (as opposed to “discretionary” duties, discussed below). Determining what is a ministerial duty is the subject of much debate among lawyers and the courts. A ministerial act is commonly one that is simple, absolute, and definite, arising under conditions admitted or proved to exist, and requiring merely the execution of a specific duty. An example of a ministerial duty is when there is an established policy requiring an official to take specified action in a specified situation, the policy creates a ministerial duty on the part of the official to perform the specified task.
A “discretionary” act calls for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment, which in turn entails examining the facts, reaching reasoned conclusions, and acting on them in a way not specifically directed. Government employees cannot be sued for discretionary acts.
The Supreme Court of Georgia and Georgia Court of Appeals each recently tackled issues involving suing government employees. In Godfrey v. Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, S10G1902, 11 FCDR 3162 (10/28/2011), the Supreme Court ruled that the City of Newnan was not required to offer or purchase uninsured motorist coverage. The case involved a car accident in which a City of Newnan police officer was hit by another vehicle while on duty. The other vehicle had no insurance. The policy officer sought to recover uninsured motorist coverage from the City of Newnan, even though the City of Newnan hadn’t purchased this type of coverage. The police officer argued that Georgia law requires insurance companies to offer uninsured motorist coverage, which did not occur in this case. The Supreme Court found that the City of Newnan’s agreement for insurance coverage was not governed by the statutory requirements for uninsured motorists applicable to commercial and private self-insured plans.
The Court of Appeals took a different tack in government immunity case. In City of Atlanta v. Lockett, A11A0948, 11 FDCR 3216 (10/28/11), the court ruled against the against the City of Atlanta. In this case, an automobile accident occurred when a vehicle being chased by the Atlanta Police Department hit and injured a pedestrian. One of the officers admitted that the pursuit violated the Atlanta Police Department’s written policy regarding emergency police chases. The City of Atlanta argued that it could not be sued by the pedestrian because the vehicle that caused the injuries was not an Atlanta Police Department vehicle. The court rejected this argument and held that the lawsuit could proceed because the City of Atlanta was the responsible party for the injuries, even if it was not a City of Atlanta vehicle that caused the actual injuries.
If you have a claim against a government entity or government employee, please call Krause Law Firm for a free consultation.