Personal injuries involving Mississippi government employees
The Mississippi Tort Claims Act grants governmental entities special privileges when an employee’s negligence causes harm to others. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-9 (Rev. 2002). One such law provides that governmental entities in Mississippi shall not be responsible for the harms that an entity causes if the conduct in question represents, “a discretionary function,” or, “arises out of exercise of discretion in determining whether or not to seek or provide the resources necessary for purchase of equipment, the construction or maintenance of facilities, the hiring of personnel and, in general, the provision of adequate governmental services.” Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-46-9(1)(d) and (g).
Mississippi courts have always required government entities to also show that the acts in question involved social, economic, or political policy decisions before the entity could receive a free pass for the harm caused. Jones v. Mississippi Department of Transportation, 744 So.2d 256, 260 (Miss. 1999)(overruled on other grounds). This requirement is important because, with a little imagination, every act or omission can be said to involve some element of choice or judgment on some level.
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Discretionary Function in Pratt v. Gulfport-Biloxi
The Mississippi Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Pratt v. Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport Authority trivializes this second requirement. No. 2009-CT-01202-SCT (Sept. 6, 2012). The case involved an injury to a doctor who lost his footing while walking down wet aluminum stairs causing serious injuries that required surgery. There was traction tape in the middle of the stairs but none on the sides. It was raining. He had only one route to his flight. Maintenance men admitted that they thought that one piece of tape ought to be enough though they could have used two for extra safety.
The trial Judge dismissed the case without a trial stating that the acts and omissions of the Airport were, “guided by the regulatory purpose of providing a safe and secure premises for its patrons,” such that any duty to act on the part of the Airport was a social or economic one.
The doctor appealed the lower court’s decision. The Court of Appeals ruled in Dr. Pratt’s favor stating that this was not a high-browed public policy decision – this was just two maintenance guys saying one piece of tape will be enough. 2009-CA-01202-COA, (¶1)(Miss. Ct. App. Mar. 1, 2011).
In September, 2012, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals ruling and stated that daily operational activities of the Airport involve social and economic policy decisions. No. 2009-CT-01202-SCT (Sept. 6, 2012). The Court explained that the Airport’s decision to use the stairs in the first place was an economic decision. Further, the Court explained that since people used the stairs, the decision about how much tape to use was a social one as well.
Discretionary function affects your Mississippi personal injury claim
It is now hard to imagine a situation where a decision made by any employee of any governmental entity will not involve immunity. With a little imagination, everything can be tied to an economic or social element if it need only involve money and people. While it was the intent of our legislature to hold governmental entities accountable for the harms caused to innocent people, it appears it is the intent of some members of our Supreme Court to give danger a pass. The next time one of our Supreme Court justices comes up for re-election, we should ask them how they feel about respecting the rights of those injured by others, and then, hold them accountable.
If you have questions regarding your personal injury case with Mississippi government employees, contact the experienced attorneys at Morris Bart today.
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