When crimes are committed, we must of course first and foremost hold the assailant(s) responsible for their alleged actions.
However, we also recognize that in some cases, perpetrators might never have had the opportunity to carry out their actions but for the negligence of someone else. These third parties must also be held accountable.
When such a lawsuit is filed, it’s called a third-party liability case. Beyond serving to help the victim be made whole, these types of cases can also ensure that no one else has to endure that same kind of incident.
Such is the goal in the Alabama third-party liability lawsuit In Re: John Doe v. Davis Middle School et al, before the Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division.
The case stemmed from an alleged sexual assault against a minor middle school student by an unidentified male at the school. The original complaint against the school was filed in March, with the plaintiff alleging a single claim of negligence against the school and the principal. The student, by way of his representatives, alleged that the school and principal had failed to protect him because they had failed to properly supervise the unidentified male. (Presumably, criminal charges were brought in the case. However, it’s worth noting that a criminal case need not be pressed in order for the civil case to move forward, as the burden of proof is far higher in the criminal case than in civil case.)
As the case proceeded at the trial court level, the school board filed a motion requesting that the court dismiss the negligence claim with prejudice, on the grounds that the school board – and therefore the school and principal – were entitled to absolute immunity, per Section 14 of the Alabama Constitution. This section holds that the state “shall never” be made to be a defendant in any court of law. The school board, by virtue of the fact that it is a public entity, may be considered a branch of “the state.”
The plaintiffs in the case had argued that the school was a separate legal entity from the board, and therefore could still be held liable.
The trial court accepted this argument, allowing the case to proceed. However, the school district/defendant followed up with a write of mandamus to the Alabama Supreme Court, requesting a dismissal of the case per the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision, ruling that the school and the school board were indeed one in the same. The court’s decision was based on an earlier ruling in the 1977 case of Enterprise City Board of Education v. Miller. There, the court stated that all county school boards are local agencies of the state, and schools operate at the direction of the board – making them one in the same.
However, this does not necessarily exclude the school officials as individuals from liability. For example in this case, the principal did not join the school’s motion to dismiss, and therefore, action against him may still move forward.
If you have questions about whether a third-party liability claim is worth pursuing, contact our Montgomery personal injury attorneys.
More Blog Entries:
Halloween Safety in Montgomery: Drivers, Parents and Kids Beware, Oct. 20, 2013, Alabama Negligence Lawyer Blog