Is your district liable for an intentional tort?

T.J. got on the wrong bus.  The six-year old was supposed to get on the daycare bus at the end of the day, but somehow, he ended up on the regular school bus.   When the bus driver figured out that T.J. was on the wrong bus, she just put him off the bus on the side of a highway. Did we mention that T.J. was six?

In the subsequent lawsuit, T.J.’s mother alleged that Dallas County Schools should be held liable for the psychological trauma the boy suffered.  She alleged that this whole episode was attributable to the negligence and the intentional actions of Dallas County School employees.

The court tossed the case out without even hearing the entire case. The court held that the allegations in the suit—even if they all turned out to be true—would not be enough to impose liability on the DCS.

Thus we have yet another example of the immunity that Texas school districts enjoy.  School districts, including DCS, are immune from general tort liability.  The one exception involves the negligent “use or operation” of a motor vehicle.  Here, the court held that there was nothing negligent about how the bus driver handled the bus. If she was negligent, it was in the way she supervised the child. That is not a basis for legal liability for the school.

The mother also alleged that this incident amounted to an “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” This is another tort that Texas courts recognize…but not with regard to public school districts.  The Texas Tort Claims Act settles this question, by noting that districts cannot be held liable for “a claim…arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, or any other intentional tort.”  Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 101.057(2).

An individual school employee could be held liable for an intentional tort. But this suit was against DCS.  Case dismissed.

The case is Dallas County Schools v. Vallet, decided by the Court of Appeals in Dallas on December 8, 2016.


File this one under: LIABILITY AND IMMUNITY

Tomorrow: an interesting Whistleblower case….