In Virginia, the Commonwealth, counties, cities, towns, school boards, agencies, and sometimes even their employees enjoy sovereign immunity from the wrongful deaths, brain injuries and other personal injuries they cause. Currently an Assistant Principal is claiming sovereign immunity for brain injuries suffered by a student who was attacked at Gloucester High School after the Assistant Principal allegedly was warned of the impending attack, assured he would notify security personnel on premises, and did nothing instead. See, Gregory J. Gagnon, et al. v. Travis Burns, et al., No. CL08-572 in Gloucester County Circuit Court.

This is the first in a five-part series on exceptions to Virginia sovereign immunity. The series will be followed by a related post on duties of school board employees and others.

Virginia law is clear that even if a governmental entity is immune, its employees individually still are liable for simple negligence in the performance of a ministerial act. E.g., Friday-Spivey v. Collier, 268 Va. 384, 388-391 (2004); Heider v. Clemons, 241 Va. 143, 145 (1991); First Va. Bank-Colonial v. Baker, 225 Va. 72, 78 (1983); Lake v. Mitchell, 2008 Va. Cir. LEXIS 118, * 1, 7-8 & 12, (Prince George May 23, 2008)(relied on by Defendant at bar at discovery hearing); Baker v. Miller, 74 Va. Cir. 98, 99-100 (Fauquier Aug. 7, 2007); Ferro v. Shifflett, 72 Va. Cir. 298, 302-303 (Prince William Nov. 29, 2006); Howard v. Streater, 71 Va. Cir. 61 (Richmond Apr. 24, 2006); Ford v. Commonwealth, 58 Va. Cir. 428, 429-431 (Rappahannock Apr. 3, 2002);Daddio v. Ashley, 43 Va. Cir. 283, 285 (Loudon Sep. 3, 1997); Gray v. Commonwealth, 40 Va. Cir. 419, 421-422 (Richmond Oct. 24, 1996); Diaz v. Mendoza, 46 Va. Cir. 491, 493 (Norfolk Aug. 16, 1995); Habib v. Blanchard, 25 Va. Cir. 451, 453-455 (Fairfax Nov. 13, 1991); MFC Partnership v. Foster, 6 Va. Cir. 349, 356-357 (Lee Jul. 16, 1986); and Yassa v. Moore, 3 Va. Cir. 189, 191-192 (Alexandria May 2, 1984). Additionally, it is clear that governmental employees also still are liable for gross negligence in the performance of any act, including one of judgment and discretion. E.g., B.M.H. v. The School Board of the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, 833 F. Supp. 560, 574 (E.D. Va. 1993) (Virginia law)(school board employee); Koffman v. Garnett, 265 Va. 12, 15 (2003)(school board employee); Verry v. Barry, 72 Va. Cir. 318, 321 (Fairfax Jul. 27, 2006); Kern v. Allee, 2006 Va. Cir. LEXIS 19, * 6-7 (Nelson Feb. 8, 2006)(school board employee); Daddio, supra, 43 Va. Cir. at 286; and Hawkins v. Pinkerton’s, Inc., 42 Va. Cir. 316, 319 (Petersburg May 27, 1997)(cited by Defendant). Cf., Altizer v. County of Tazewell, Va., 2008 Va. Cir. LEXIS 13, * 3-5 (Nelson Feb. 8, 2008).