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E-Alert Case Updates

Statute Only Immunizes Employee, Not County Board Employer

Board of Ed. of Prince George’s County v. Marks-Sloan
No. 1447 (Maryland Court of Special Appeals, October 28, 2011)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Here, the Court of Special Appeals examined the extent of the statutory immunity granted to county board of education employees under MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-518. The interpretation of this statute was a matter of first impression for the Court.

The case arose when a bus driver employed by the Prince George’s County Board of Education was involved in an accident. He forced a motorcycle driven by the Plaintiff, a fellow County employee, off the road, causing Plaintiff to sustain injuries. Plaintiff was awarded workers’ compensation benefits. She also sued the bus driver and the Board of Education in Circuit Court, alleging that she was injured as a result of the bus driver’s negligence. The bus driver and the Board filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment. In support of their motion, Defendants argued that the workers’ compensation award was Plaintiff’s sole remedy against the Board and that the bus driver, as a Board employee, possessed statutory immunity from a suit based on simple negligence arising during the scope of his employment. The motion was denied as to the bus driver, but granted as to the Board. However, the Court required the Board to remain a party to the litigation for indemnification purposes.

The Appellants argued that the Circuit Court erred because the bus driver enjoyed statutory immunity from suit, and the Board was not liable because workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy. The Appellants relied on MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-518(e), dealing with the immunity of county boards of education. That statute states in pertinent part, that county board employees, acting within the scope of employment, without malice or gross negligence, are not personally liable for damages resulting from a tort. The bus driver and Board read this part of the statute broadly to provide complete immunity from suit and judgment in tort to employees like the bus driver, and accordingly, argued that the tort action against the bus driver should have been dismissed.

By contrast, the Plaintiff argued that under the statute, employees of county boards of education were immune only from the ultimate financial consequences of their torts, and accordingly, were allowed to be sued, but to be indemnified by their employers for tort damages.

The Court agreed with the Plaintiff’s interpretation of the statute. As a recipient of a workers’ compensation award, Plaintiff could not bring a suit in negligence directly against her employer, the Board, but no such barrier prevented her from bringing suit against a co-employee such as the bus driver. Consequently, the Court held that the statute did not provide employees with immunity from suit, but only required county boards to protect an employee from execution on a judgment against the employee through indemnification. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.


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