Michigan Attorney Seeks Updates to 53-year-old Government Immunity Act for Public School Employees

Attorney says government immunity inhibits teachers from sharing behavioral information with parents; wants legislative changes to potentially help save students’ lives

Media contact: Barbara Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications, 248.260.8466; barbara@eafocus.com

Southfield, Mich. —Oct. 17, 2017— Requesting that serious consideration be given to updating the 1964 Act that protects Michigan government workers and public school employees from gross negligence torts, A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella, P.C., says the Act no longer meets the needs of children who are bullied, have ongoing mental health issues, or are experiencing or acting on suicidal thoughts.

Gross negligence refers to actions that show substantial disregard for safety precautions and singular disregard for the clear risks of harm. Government immunity is the exception for public employees and their designees that may exempt them from gross negligence claims.

“By its very nature, the K-12 school setting has always posed challenges to kids’ physical and emotional health. However, the advent and growing use of cell phones, texting and social apps have increased the dangers for many children and teachers who witness troubling behaviors such as crying or acting out, and may say nothing because there are no repercussions to not doing so,” Colella said. “The overwhelming majority of teachers and school staff want to protect and nurture students, but those who fail to act to potentially save a child’s life need to be held accountable – and government immunity doesn’t always allow for that.”

As one example, Colella referred to a Haslett, Michigan, sixth grader who took his life in October 2016 by stepping in front of a train after school. Despite crying fitfully throughout the school day, and teacher acknowledgements that he wasn’t acting like himself, no one called the boy’s parents to notify them of his troubling behavior.

“A phone call in this case could have saved a life. The teachers and administration claimed that they were bound by confidentiality agreements not to say anything. Apparently maintaining a confidence trumps the health and welfare of a student. That’s not right and it doesn’t have to be law,” Colella said.

To take action, Colella says citizens should contact their state representative or senator.

An experienced litigator in government immunity cases, Colella is currently representing a former Genesee County high school student who seriously and permanently injured her hand in October 2014 after following her shop teacher’s advice that the use of a blade guard was optional when using the classroom saw. The teacher said the blade guard was only necessary when an insurance inspector was present.

On May 25, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals said government immunity doesn’t apply in this lawsuit (Bellinger v Kram) and that a jury should decide whether the student’s injuries were the result of the teacher’s gross negligence.  The jury trial is expected to take place this fall.

About Moss & Colella

Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death.  The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims.  To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.

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