Kentucky Personal Injury Case Update: Lawsuit Against School Officials
Issue: Was the bus driver liable for the sexual assault on his bus when he failed to keep an eye on the students and make sure they followed the rules of staying in their seats while he was driving the bus?
In Addison v. Green, 2009 WL 3486657 (Ky.App.), the Kentucky Court of Appeals said that he might be and did not grant the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment asking that the case against him be dismissed. The facts are as follows.
In September of 2003 a 17 year old boy sexually assaulted a five year old girl while they were riding on a school bus together. Id. In October of 2005, the parents for the girl filed a lawsuit against, the bus driver, Mr. Addison; the director of student transportation for the school system, Mr. Wilson; the principal, Mr. Adams; and the superintendent, Mr. Eakles. Id. In October of 2007, the Plaintiff added a Ms. Donna Monroe to the lawsuit. Id. She was the social worker who provided services to Mr. Oliver and based on the facts, Plaintiffs sought to hold her responsible as well. In April of 2008, the Plaintiff agreed to let out Mr. Wilson, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Eakles in they these parties had immunity. Id. But, the Plaintiffs argued that Mr. Addison and Ms. Monroe’s actions were ministerial rather than discretionary, thus exempting them from entitlement to immunity. Id.
During discovery, it was revealed that Mr. Oliver had a troubled childhood including a history of sexually inappropriate behavior. Id. He was treated at several medical facilities. Id.
The trial court held that the bus driver had a duty of prohibiting children on the bus from moving about while the bus was in motion and from talking to the driver while the bus was in motion. Id. The bus driver failed to enforce these rules, the duty to enforce these rules would likely be considered ministerial duties not involving the exercise of discretion. Id. Plaintiff alleges that but for the breach of these ministerial duties, the injury in this case would have been prevented. Id. The trial court agreed.
This Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s findings. “Public employees are shielded from liability for negligence by the doctrine of qualified immunity but only insofar as they are performing discretionary acts. (cites omitted). Id. “That immunity does not extend to negligent performance of ministerial acts. Id. Ministerial acts are merely routine duties while discretionary acts involve the exercise of judgment within the scope of the employee’s authority.” (cites omitted). Id. The Plaintiffs’ provided evidence that the school system regulations/rules state that students should: “remain in their seats while the bus is moving; avoid activity that might distract the bus driver, avoid loud talking, laughing, and unnecessary confusion; and refrain from talking to the bus driver. Furthermore those regulation/rules state that the bus driver is responsible for maintaining order on the bus in accordance with the regulations/rules.” Id. The Plaintiffs argue that the bus driver’s enforcement of the regulations/rules was ministerial not discretionary, and that the videotapes show that the bus driver did not perform his ministerial duties. Id.
In the seminal case Yanero (cite omitted), “the Supreme Court of Kentucky held that dismissal of a number of parties was appropriate; however, the Court permitted the student athlete’s claim against the coaches to proceed.” In Yanero, a student athlete suffered a head injury when he was struck by a baseball during batting practice. Id. At the time, the school had a rule requiring student athletes to wear helmets during batting practice. Id. In its holding, the Court held that the “coaches owed a duty of care to the student athlete…” Id. “The Supreme Court then stated that performance of the duty “was a ministerial, rather than a discretionary function in that it involved only the enforcement of a known rule requiring that student athletes wear batting helmets during baseball batting practice. The promulgation of such a rule is a discretionary function; the enforcement of it is a ministerial function.” Id.
Thus, as in Yanero, in the case at hand, this Appellate Court stated “while promulgation of the regulations/rules with regard to behavior on a school bus may be discretionary, enforcement of those rules is ministerial.” Id. Accordingly, the trial court’s ruling was sustained and the case against the bus driver was allowed to proceed to trial.
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