Maryland Court Analyzes Immunity Law in Personal Injury Suit Against Teachers

In a recent court case, the parents of a sixth grader claimed that their daughter was injured as a result of allegedly negligent teachers and administrators at their daughter’s middle school.  The plaintiffs in the case filed a Maryland negligence suit following several incidents in which their daughter suffered injuries at the hands of her classmates.  In a July 1, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals considered whether the individual defendants were immune from suit under a federal statute.

The plaintiffs’ daughter in the case was involved in multiple physical and verbal altercations with other students at her school throughout her sixth grade year.  On two separate occasions, she suffered a concussion from attacks by her classmates.  She was also involved in a fistfight that resulted in the suspension of one student and notification of law enforcement.

The plaintiffs filed suit against teachers who were supervising the students when their daughter was injured, as well as the Board of Education.  The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  The plaintiffs appealed that decision to the higher court.

The Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001 is a federal statute that provides immunity to teachers, principals, and other school professionals taking reasonable actions to maintain order, discipline, and an appropriate educational environment.  The law provides that teachers are not liable for harm if they were acting lawfully and within the scope of their duties, and the harm was not caused by reckless or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, a conscious, flagrant indifference, or a motor vehicle.

The Coverdell Act preempts state law, except where a state law provides additional protection from liability, or expressly refuses to adopt immunity.  In Maryland, there is no law refusing Coverdell immunity.  However, Maryland law does provide teachers with a right of indemnification, which shifts the financial burden off the teachers, but does not bar a lawsuit.

The appeals court concluded that, insofar as the teachers’ right of indemnification under Maryland law provides less protection than their right of immunity under federal law, the Coverdell Act preempts Maryland law.  As such, the court held that the individual teachers were immune from the plaintiffs’ suit under federal law.

Although the Coverdell Act does not provide immunity for local school boards, the appeals court went on to find that the Board was nevertheless entitled to summary judgment under Maryland law.  The court noted that Maryland does not recognize any claim based on negligent education, including claims of educational malpractice. The court held that, insofar as student discipline is an essential component of educational policy, claims of negligent school discipline are prohibited as a matter of law in Maryland.  Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed in favor of the defendants.

If you are seeking legal advice after an accident or injury, a Maryland personal injury lawyer can help.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., we represent victims of negligence and their family members in lawsuits arising from wrongful death, medical malpractice, motor vehicle collisions, and more.  Arrange a free consultation with a skilled injury attorney by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

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