In the state of Texas, public school employees have protection from litigation involving tort liability. They are protected by qualified immunity outlined in the Texas Education Code, Section 22.0511. This states, “ (a) A professional employee of a school district is not personally liable for any act that is incident to or within the scope of the duties of the employee’s position of employment and that involves the exercise of judgement or discretion on the part of the employee, except in circumstances in which a professional employee uses excessive force in the discipline of students or negligence resulting in bodily injury to students. (b) This section does not apply to the operation, use, or maintenance of any motor vehicles” (Texas Education Code, 22.0511, 2009). The only two exceptions to this is professional school employees can be sued for excessive use of force in carrying out corporal punishment, secondly the law does not immunize the employees who are sued from motor vehicle injuries.
Courts have always been sympathetic to public school employees when it comes to qualified immunity. But, their qualified immunity is not the same as sovereign immunity applied to school districts. Due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, school districts are immune from liability. Only when injury arises from negligent use or operation of motor vehicles can liability be imposed. An example of an attempt at this is Hopkins v. Spring Independent School Dist. Celeste Adeline Hopkins was a student at an elementary school at Spring Independent School District. Hopkins suffers from cerebral palsy and her mother alleges that students pushed Celeste Hopkins into a stack of chairs while the students were left unsupervised. Hopkins suffered a head injury, had mild convulsions, a cold sweat, and became incoherent. No help was called by the teacher and the school nurse told Hopkins to stay at school. Her mother wasn’t contacted by her doctors. After the school day while riding the bus, Hopkins suffered severe convulsions and the bus driver contacted their supervisor and asked for a school nurse to be provided at the next stop. They told the bus driver to just take Hopkins to the daycare. In this case they tried to sue the Spring Independent School district because they claimed that the lack of supervision and failure to transport Hopkins to a medical facility was the reason for Hopkins suffering major convulsions. As stated earlier, an exception is in circumstances where an employee uses excessive force or their negligence resulted in bodily harm to a student. The Barr court stated they consider the entire statute in determining legislative intent behind it. Since the teacher didn’t use excessive force and the injury was caused by another student, the teacher couldn’t be held liable for the injuries Hopkins suffered. The other problem with this is that the motor vehicle has to be the reason for injury. In Hopkins’ case their claim was the failure to transport, not bodily injury. Since their claim had the hole in it, they weren’t successful in throwing out the school districts immunity. The Brantley court held Hopkins’ injury wasn’t caused by the defendant’s failure to transport Hopkins to a hospital.
When trying to sue a public school employee or school district for the liability of an injury you have to make sure it meets the exceptions. Due to the immunity the employees and school districts have, they escape from being held liable under qualified immunity and sovereign immunity. There have been cases where this immunity has been used and a few where the immunity didn’t work. If you have any questions about a civil litigation case, contact a civil litigation lawyer in Arlington, TX, like the office of Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC.