Alabama Supreme Court: Damage Caps Not Applicable for City Worker Sued Individually

A young boy in Montgomery was electrocuted when he came in contact with a broken chain link fence that had become electrified due to improperly secured wiring at a commercial building next door to his great-grandmother’s house.
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Following his death, his mother filed a lawsuit against not only the owner of the property, but also the city inspector who had deemed the property to be in safe condition several months earlier. Recently, that case, Morrow v. Caldwell, was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court on the issue of state-agent immunity and damage caps.

When the mother filed the lawsuit against the city electrical inspector, she sued him in his official capacity. He responded by claiming state-agent immunity. She then amended her complaint to sue him in his individual capacity for “individual acts of negligence and wantonness that contributed to the death of (her son).” She alleged he hadn’t followed proper protocol, and had either intentionally or in bad faith allowed the property to be cleared for electrical restoration (it had been off for eight months prior, which is why the inspection was required).

The defendant responded with a motion for summary judgment based on state-agent immunity. The plaintiff mother argued he was not entitled to this protection because he’d failed to enforce the National Electrical Code as he was required, and further he had failed to follow the city’s Electrical Ordinance in a manner that disregarded the safety of others. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a summary judgment, meaning the case would be allowed to press forward.

Subsequently, the defendant filed a petition for writ of mandamus to the Alabama Supreme court, requesting that the court grant a summary judgment. The high court denied his request.

Soon after, the defendant filed another motion with the trial court, requesting a judgment declaring that the statutory limitations for liability in his case would be $100,000, as pursuant to Alabama Code 11-47-190. This is the law that would cap economic damages in a case where a government worker was held liable in his or her official capacity.

However, the trial court denied this request, finding that while the issue wasn’t directly settled in case law, it appeared that the caps were not intended by the legislature to be applicable when government officials are sued in their individual capacity.

The defendant requested that the trial court certify the question to the Alabama Supreme Court, and it did. What the court found was that the damage caps were applicable only to what a plaintiff could recover from a municipality – not from a worker sued in his or her individual capacity.

Therefore, the case will be allowed to proceed with no limit on damage caps, meaning if the case is decided in favor of the plaintiff, the jury will be allowed to decide the extent to which she should be compensated for her loss.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Morrow v. Caldwell, March 14, 2014, Alabama Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Montgomery Premises Liability Claims With Multiple Defendants, Jan. 15, 2014, Montgomery Child Injury Lawyer Blog