A tragic playground accident at an elementary school in Georgia has claimed the life of a 5-year-old girl. Andrea Tyrah Debruhl, a kindergartner, was playing on the monkey bars when she somehow got into a position that caused her to become asphyxiated. According to news report, teachers and paraprofessionals were supervising the playground at the time of her death. It is unclear how this tragic death could have happened if she was being supervised properly. Unfortunately for Andrea’s parents, the school district and its employees may never be held accountable for this death, regardless of how negligent they may have been. This is because Georgia law grants school districts immunity from lawsuits for damages. On top of that, individual school district employees are protected from liability by what is known as “official immunity.” Official immunity protects government employees, unless they negligently failed to perform a ministerial act, or they performed a discretionary act with malice and an intent to injure. Georgia courts have repeatedly held that supervising students is a discretionary act for which school employees enjoy immunity from lawsuits.
It seems shocking that Georgia law could protect school districts and their employees when their negligence results in serious injury or death. When we send our kids of to school, we expect, and hope, that they will be cared for and that nothing will happen to them. Unless the legislature changes the law, parents whose children suffer serious injuries or deaths and school will continue to find the courthouse doors locked when they try to seek justice for their children.